TAYLORSVILLE — Salt Lake County’s newest semi-professional theatre company is the Hart Theater Company, and they are starting off with a bang with their inaugural production of The Wild Party.
Set in the roaring 1920s, The Wild Party is a musical with book, lyrics, and music by Andrew Lippa. The musical tells the story of the beautiful young Queenie (Emily Wells) and her high-octane romance with Burrs (Taylor Smith), a vaudevillian clown with a voracious appetite for women. As their relationship begins to sour, Queenie decides to throw a “wild party” in an effort to bring back the spark to their romance. Directed by Amber Hansen and performing at the beautiful new Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center, so many elements of this production were spectacular that it is difficult to know where to begin.
The set design by Maddy Ashton and Aaron Holladay sets the mood from the moment one sets foot into the theatre. The creative set design fills the entire space—from hanging chandeliers to rugs on the floor, to the cool multi-layered set that clearly defines the living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom all in one space.
Queenie enters the stage and introduces another breathtaking element of this production: the costume design by Alicia Kondrick. The costumes are beautifully intricate and detailed. Queenie is adorned with sparkling jewelry and bejeweled tights that cause her to be absolutely radiant under the stage lights. The ensemble is adorned with similarly breathtaking costumes, right down to the sparkling shoes that match their 20s flapper dresses.
The vocals and acting of the lead performers Wells and Smith are nothing short of Broadway level in quality. In addition to her powerhouse voice, Wells brings deep, raw emotion to the character of Queenie. Wells as Queenie seamlessly moves from being beautiful and graceful, to mischievous and cunning, to heartbreakingly devastated all in one night. Her body language, facial expressions, and soulful voice expertly portray exactly what she is feeling at all times and allows the audience to follow along on this roller coaster of a party with her.
Smith’s vocals, particularly during his songs, “What Is It About Her,” and, “Let Me Drown,” are jaw-dropping. It is surprising that he is not heading straight to New York with his level of talent. On top of his jaw-dropping vocals, Smith is domineering and menacing as the evil vaudeville clown with little respect for women. The intensity of his acting is bone-chilling, which is only further enhanced by his booming, crystal clear vocals.
The professionalism of the ensemble is equally as noteworthy, and several of them had moments to shine throughout the show. Evan Beesley, who plays the role of Jackie and also choreographed the show, demonstrates his expert dance skills and dances a beautiful solo in Act 2. Other ensemble members, such as James Wong as Max and Paul McGrew as Oscar D’Armano, let their vocals soar with their high notes and impressive riffing techniques. There were moments during the show when the ensemble members were not the center of focus, but I simply could not keep my eyes off of them due to how engaging they were.
Other outstanding performers included Amanda Anne Dayton as Madeline True, the proud, woman-hungry lesbian, who steals the show with her hilarious performance of, “An Old-Fashioned Love Story,” during which she unsuccessfully prowls for women while in a drunken stupor. Her physicality and commanding stage presence left me in stitches, and this number was one of my personal favorite numbers in the show. Partygoer Kate, played by Mariah Stanelle, is an explosion of energy from the moment she enters the stage, and the mysterious Mr. Black, played by Ken “Fletch” Walcott, dazzles with his velvety-smooth vocals. I was surprised to read in the program that this is actually Walcott’s first musical. He performs like a seasoned professional, and his voice is worthy of a record deal.
A defining characteristic of The Wild Party is the jazzy score, and Hart Theatre Company made the wise decision to use a live band for this production. Conducted by Anne Puzey, who also music-directed the show, the live band brought a level of rousing energy and professionalism that pre-recorded tracks simply would not. Yet another technical element that was on-point was the sound design by Bryce Robinette. The sound was crystal clear with no feedback issues whatsoever, and the voices of the performers echoed and boomed throughout the small space, sounding as though the show was taking place in a much larger concert hall.
Due to sexual content and mature subject matter, this production is not recommended for children under the age of 16. There is a moment during the show where audience members are given the opportunity to step outside if they do not wish to watch a scene involving sexual violence, but there was not a time throughout the entire show where I felt compelled to leave. The scenes involving sexuality and violence were handled tastefully without crossing the line into being uncomfortable and inappropriate.
It is refreshing to get the opportunity to see unique productions that are not typically done in Utah, and this is exactly what Hart Theater Company has delivered. This is a Broadway-level quality production being performed right here in Salt Lake County, and the opportunity to see The Wild Party will likely not present itself in Utah again anytime soon. It will be exciting to see the unique offerings presented by this company in the future, made even more exciting due to the level of professionalism of this company. If this production is any indication, great things can be expected from the future of Hart Theater Company.