Broadway musicals find their inspiration from sources far and wide. Today we see many based off of popular films, but many sources of some great musicals came from books, plays, and even poems. Rarely however do two writers take form the same source material at the same time — both creating their retelling of the same story. This, however, was the case of The Wild Party’s, the two adaptations of the story length poem of the same name.
Back in the year 2000 two up and coming composers Michael John LaChiusa and Andrew Lippa both had their version of The Wild Party open in New York City. The musicals instantly began a debate on chatrooms across the country. People came to aid of both and arguments drawn upon the virtues of one show over the other. Rightly so since both were of two very distinct voices and yet came from the same source material of Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 poem “The Wild Party.” The musicals even share the same opening line from the poem for gosh sakes.
The shows follow a basic storyline similar to the poem about a vaudeville couple that throws the titular wild party. The party descends into a world of sex, drugs, and violence however the two shows present this descent in distinctly different telling’s.
LaChiusa’s version opened on Broadway at the Virginia Theatre on April 13th and ran until June 11th. With a star-studded cast of Toni Collette, Mandy Patinkin, Tonya Pinkins, and Eartha Kitt. The show was one act and earned multiple nominations at the Tony Awards that year including Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Performance by both a leading actor and actress. The story was focused on the entire guest list of the party and explored deeper themes of sexuality, racism, and sexism. The music was set to a tone intensely focused on the roaring twenties and stays true to the period. The show almost nineteen years later has received productions all over the world and is a staple of advanced college theatre.
Comparatively the Lippa version was brought to Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club and ran for 52 performances through February and March of the same year. The show starred many large names of today as well such as Julia Murney, Brian d’Arcy James, Taye Diggs, Idina Menzel, and Alix Korey. Lippa’s Wild Party was largely believed to be the more conventional of the two interpretations. The show was focused around the central four characters much like its namesake. The show had brassy numbers and ballads for Queenie. This version, much like its counterpart, has seen many reincarnations across the world including a recent staging as the final show of Encores at City Center in New York’s 2015 season.
The Wild Party is still a source of debate for many of the theatre community, and even though the two ran for almost the same amount of time, and share a source material they vary in many ways. However, the fact that both shows shared short runs may indicate that the world wasn’t ready for such a party back in the early 2000’s. It’s interesting given the kinds of work that have since graced Broadway with dark themes and boundary pushing ideas much like these shows.
We invite you all to take a listen to the two scores as both have cast recordings, and decide for yourself the versions virtues and merits. Will you enjoy the more conventional Lippa and his beautiful ballads for it’s heroine Queenie, or perhaps the grittier and jazzier LaChiusa will catch your imagination and have you longing for the roaring twenties.