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Theater Review: Guests of Firehouse Theatre's "The Wild Party" include compelling performances and messy mayhem.

click to enlarge Local favorite Terence Sullivan (standing) helps lead the large cast of Firehouse's "The Wild Party.

Bill Sigafoos

Local favorite Terence Sullivan (standing) helps lead the large cast of Firehouse's "The Wild Party.

From the first scene of Firehouse Theatre Project’s latest musical, “The Wild Party,” you know things aren’t going to end well for 1920s vaudeville performers Queenie (Grey Garrett) and Burrs (Terence Sullivan). That you’ll need to wait two and a half hours to see exactly how badly things will go is only one of the problems for this delightfully salacious but ultimately messy production.

Locked in a three-year-long, abusive relationship with Burrs, Queenie decides to throw a raucous house party as a vehicle for his ultimate comeuppance. What follows is a lot of unfocused fun that, like many actual parties, rambles on long after the best moments of the evening are over. Background players take center stage in brief vignettes that range from Carolyn Meade’s sexy rant of lesbian frustration in the song “An Old-Fashioned Love Story” to the unnecessary, often spoke-sung testament of affection between professional fighter Eddie (David T. Zimmerman) and his petite sweetie Mae (Brianne Chin), “Two of a Kind.”

But the action never strays far from the central drama and Garrett and Sullivan make a compelling pair, chewing the scenery with relish. Garrett plays Queenie, a dancer with insatiable desires, with an admirable, crazy-eyed fervor that’s backed up by a clear and expressive voice. Sullivan, who’s become a local stage fave playing fun and empathetic characters, boldly takes on the role of near-sociopath Burrs, delivering a chilling, engrossing performance. In the end, though, the musical doesn’t put enough meat on the bones of these characters to make you care how their story concludes.

Two party-crashers ultimately get enmeshed in the Queenie/Burrs drama and provide some of the evening’s highlights. Joy Marie Newsome has enough vocal power to knock over furniture and uses it to make her character, coke-snorting former hooker Kate, impossible to ignore. In contrast, Josh Marin is relatively quiet and demure as Mr. Black, and his almost parental concern for Queenie serves as the most emotionally genuine aspect of the show.

The middle of the musical includes some nice down-tempo moments that give the proceedings some gravitas, culminating in Marin’s show-stopping “I’ll Be Here.” But more mayhem must ensue before the denouement, including some jazzy dancing choreographed by Starrene Foster that’s hampered by a couple of less-than-agile ensemble members.

Andrew Bonniwell’s lighting design is a bit bright and gaudy, but that helps establish the appropriate atmosphere, and costume designer Margarette Joyner outfits the girls of the show with fine glittery frocks in which to sashay around.

Style Weekly has two connections to the production. Architecture critic and Senior Contributing Editor Edwin Slipek developed the set design that frames a simple one-room apartment with the first proscenium arch I can recall seeing at the Firehouse. Also, Editor in Chief Jason Roop acquits himself in a quick scene as a cranky neighbor understandably unhappy with the goings-on.

Director Jase Smith has assembled a production that has style in many ways and some stand-out individual performances. But, as a whole, it doesn’t quite hold together.

“The Wild Party” runs through Dec. 28 at Firehouse Theatre Project, 1609 W. Broad St. Call 355-2001 or go to firehousetheatre.org for tickets and information.

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