Talk about wild.
“The Wild Party,”at Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace is less theater in the round than it is theater all around. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts Off-Center production is billed as a 360-degree performance, and it truly is the definition of immersive theater.
The musical, based on a lengthy poem by Joseph Moncure March written in 1928, tells the tale of Queenie and Burrs, tumultuous lovers who decide to throw a wild party for their fellow Vaudevillian friends. The party is filled with colorful characters, plenty of illegal bathtub gin, hot jazz music and drunken debauchery. It all leads to an emotional house of cards the characters have built up for themselves, inevitably crashing down in the most tragic of fashions.
The musical’s plot is petty apparent from the get go. No one starts a play talking about Queenie and Burrs parties typically ending with casualties for their not to be a dead body by the end of it all. But “The Wild Party” isn’t about plot twists. It’s about the music and the experience the production has created by an immersive experience for its audience.
After a brief vaudevillian routine to start the show, the entire audience is invited into Queenie and Burrs’ “apartment,” set up inside the expansive hanger of the Stanley Marketplace. The audience is part of the party, sitting on chairs in corners, around the bathtub full of gin in the center of the apartment, on couches and ottomans.
The play runs its course all throughout Queenie and Burrs’ pad. When the main action of a particular scene is playing out in one corner of the room, the rest of the cast is wandering about, grabbing people for a quick dance, chatting up everyone, taking snorts of white powder and generally having a ball.
The commitment of the cast and and the perfectly decorated set make for a unique experience that really does place the audience in the midst of a Jazz-era swinging shindig. And production’s encouragement of its audience to dress up in 1920’s fashion make it even better. It’s not hard to imagine F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald getting tight on high balls while Billie Holiday makes time with a handsome gentleman in the corner.
One great feature of the immersive environment is getting the chance to have the performers belt out their tunes without the distance of a traditionally staged production. There were times during the show where I was treated to amazing vocalists delivering their tunes within several feet of me while they wandered around the apartment.
Yet for all of its excitement and uniqueness, the production’s issues with the technology it employs was a drag on the entire experience. The wireless microphones the cast use are necessary for sure. But the quality of sound, and the unreliability of some of the sets, were well below the standard of any production put on by Denver’s premiere theater.
There are times when the lines being delivered by the actors sound as if they’re broadcast through a tin can and string to the speakers. That would be distracting on its own, but there are many instances when the action that takes place across the apartment is obscured by columns and people, and the sound is the only way to truly understand what’s happening in the show. So instead of being allowed to really sink into the experience the production gives its audience, we get pulled right back out at intervals due to technical glitches.
What makes the technological issues so much worse is just how amazing the entire experience is for the audience. The cast truly is the cat’s pajamas, boasting some of the best vocal talent in the city. The direction is so thorough that there never is a moment when the audience has a chance to not be involved. And the band so tight and swinging that they alone are worth the price of admission.
But even with the technological failings, this trip back to the Roaring Twenties is an experience everyone should take advantage of, especially given the time machine is located in the city’s backyard.
3.5 out 5 diamonds
“The Wild Party”
At The Hangar at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St, Aurora
Running through Oct. 31. Shows start each night at 7:30 p.m. with 1:30 p.m. shows Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets: Starting at $45. No one under 21 will be admitted. www.wildpartydenver.com
The show includes strong language, brief nudity, drug and alcohol consumption and violence.