No limits—no boundaries

Dare to Defy’s The Wild Party in the Mathile Theatre at Schuster

By Jacqui Theobald

There is something wonderfully brave, a perfect metaphor of the whole Dare to Defy ethos, about presenting this musical by Andrew Lippa. The play is based on a late 1920s original poem by Joseph Moncure March.

We have this combination of a beginning professional company showcasing an edgy piece, performing it with enormous energy and emotion. The company aims to bring unusual theater to Dayton and to appeal to a younger audience or those new to stage plays. “The Wild Party” is invigorated by the creativity of the young prize-winning musician and all around talent, Lippa.

This play, with Lippa’s music, book and lyrics premiered in 2000 at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. The play won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best off-Broadway musical that season and Lippa won the 2000 Drama Desk Award for best music.

Lippa is prolific: He wrote music and lyrics for the Susan Stroman directed and choreographed Big Fish recently on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre. He wrote the words and music for the recently released oratorio, I Am Harvey Milk; wrote the music for Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway productions of The Social Network and A Few Good Men. He has been Kristin Chenoweth’s music director since 1999 and has won numerous other prizes and awards for other works, according to his website.

Director Mackensie King dug deep into the social impact of abuse issues and the conflicts of female victims. The party people ignore being aware or feeling guilt, doing nothing when they witness brutality. “I worked with the cast at length to be true to the emotions of this piece, making a work of art come to life,” King says.

King has made sure the company of 15 uses every bit of the small black box Mathile space, filling it with action, dancing and singing on both the elevated proscenium stage and the floor, then seating the audience on three sides.

The voices are strong and the dancing is fast and dynamic, lithe and limber. The Wild Party is essentially a pop opera, with very scant dialogue. Music is an effective variety of styles: swing, New Orleans jazz, modern. Lisa Glover, the choreographer, supports expressiveness, the skill of her dancers and the power of the music. She is imaginative and creative. Her own dance numbers as part of the ensemble are aweing.

Dare to Defy is definitely an ensemble company, but this piece does have highlighted roles. Visually striking in the role of Queenie is Natalie Sanders who carries the focus, the survival of abuse and the pull of love and indecision. Her song “Maybe I Like It This Way” illustrates her confusion. She’s not the first person to be attracted to a bad boy—or more, to violence.

Playing the role of Burrs—angry, abusive, ready to fight and determined to have all of Queenie for himself—is Zach King. To be that insensitive and needy is a more difficult acting challenge than to be totally evil. King handles it and the singing and dancing well. He also survives a fight scene in which he is resoundingly pounded on the floor.

Dave Bledsoe and the director choreographed the fight scenes, a very specific skill. It has to be convincingly realistic, while not damaging any of the participants. Bledsoe has been active at Playhouse South Community Theater.

Desmond Thomas as Black has a more sympathetic role, offering a kinder, more insightful love to Queenie. Thomas is a talented dancer, singer and actor. Black’s commitment to Queenie is declared in his featured song “I’ll Be Here.”

Pulled in her own direction is the character Kate, played by Laura Ellen Moore. She wants Burrs, eggs him on, introduces Black to Queenie and later plays comforter to Burrs. One of her songs, the poignant “The Life of the Party” gains the momentum that escalates the wildness of the party. The second act begins with weary, bleary-eyed people, but as the party ramps up again it becomes even wilder.

Other cast members, most with a featured part of a song or dance include Danielle Kubasky, A.J. Breslin, Andre Tomlinson, Samantha Creech, Hayley Penchoff, Thomas Cole Scherier, Jeffrey Mack, Brennan Paulin, Jamal Caan and Amanda Carter. They all work together so smoothly it’s a compliment to the director and illustrates the definition of ensemble.

The creator of the original poem, Joseph Moncure March, graduated from Amherst and was a protégé of Robert Frost. “The Wild Party,” written in the mid-’20s, didn’t find a publisher until 1928. The violence and sustained drinking and descriptions of sexual encounters including gay and lesbian characters was just too risqué for most publishers despite the times. However it was a hit with the reading public when it became available. March worked at The New Yorker in its early years and then Hollywood, writing many successful film scripts.

Lori Topping conducts the nine musicians dynamically from behind a stage drape. Set design is by Ray Zupp and lighting design by Derek Dunavent.

The overall production carries well, with attention to detail. Balanced and even sound, vintage props and careful proofreading improve the play overall.

Dare to Defy presents three remaining performances of The Wild Party on April 8 and 9 at the Mathile Theatre in the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. in Dayton. Show times are 8 p.m. both nights with a 2 p.m. matinee on April 9. All general admission tickets are $21.50. This play is not appropriate for children. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at

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