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play review wild party

It’s not unusual to hear that a group of college students are having a wild party.
But this particular Wild Party is choreographed and rehearsed, and conversation is both sung and spoken, often in rhyme. “The Wild Party” currently playing in Catawba College’s Florence Busby Corriher Theater is a student-directed, produced and performed morality tale.
Joseph Moncure March’s first published work, in 1928, was his epic narrative poem “The Wild Party.” This controversial portrayal of flapper-era debauchery was banned in Boston, but acclaimed by many.
The poem was adapted into a film in the ’70s and has been made into both on- and off-Broadway musicals, but none of these versions is the one you will see at Catawba. Instead, this is a totally new and modernized version written especially for this production by 21-year-old composer Matthew Kiedrowski.
The Catawba theater students responsible for this production wanted to do a play based on the epic poem, but didn’t want to use any of the ones that already existed. Co-directors are Catawba seniors Jordan Danz and Tiffany Hogan. Danz attended high school with Kiedrowski, and knew he was just the guy to set the poetry to music.
Kiedrowski was majoring in theory and composition at the University of Miami, one of the nation’s top schools for music. But he left at the end of his junior year. He didn’t feel the esoteric training he was receiving was preparing him for what he really wanted to do ó write for musical theater. If he had wanted to be a theory professor, he would have continued his studies at Miami. But he knew that in the world of musical theater, it’s not about where you went to school, but about what you can do. So what he’s been doing is getting this show ready, and waiting for friends to graduate so they can all head to New York together.
Catawba’s version of “The Wild Party” has it placed in modern times rather than the 1920s. Kiedrowski’s score is a fusion of old and new jazz along with modern tonality. His libretto is not an exact setting of the original text, but is instead based on it. It has been transformed into a modern tale about the pitfalls of celebrity obsession. Kiedrowski also says that in converting the book to a stage play, there are huge plot holes that needed to be filled with original material.
The show clocks in at 2 hours with the intermission, and while there is some spoken dialogue, singing or musical underscore are occuring most of the time. This is a lot of music for any composer, and since Kiedrowski says he just began writing it this past October, the score is astonishing, not just for the amount of music he created in a short amount of time, but because it’s also musically inventive, always flows and constantly supports the plot and emotions.
It is also remarkably mature writing from one so young. I predict we’ll be hearing more from him in the future, on the world stage.
Of course any composer would want a cast just like this when it comes to conveying his music. This show has assembled an ensemble cast of talented, and seemingly uninhibited, actors/singers/dancers. There’s not a weak voice in the bunch. They navigated unfazed through challenging tonalities, all the while sustaining a highly-charged emotional pitch.
Kudos to the show’s accompanist, Eric Finland. The evening was quite a workout for him. He was already setting the mood by playing a half hour before show time, and he played during intermission as well. Kiedrowski’s score couldn’t have been in more capable hands than Finland’s.
Special mention to Paul Saylor’s set design which makes the most of the limited space in this black box theater. The layout of the room also puts the audience in extremely close proximity to the action, making those in attendance sometimes feel like party-goers themselves.
The bed is more than part of the set. It becomes a small stage in itself, the scene of much of the show’s plot, a vehicle for sexual tension at the root of most of the conflicts, a hiding place for drugs and weapons, and at one point, a stage for a graceful bed-ballet.
This production is not for everyone. Don’t come if you are uncomfortable witnessing actors in various stages of undress and portraying a variety of nontraditional sexual choices. The show does not glorify debauchery, but portrays it realistically. And although young people might learn a lesson ó that celebrity isn’t as glamorous as it appears ó don’t bring the kids. You can take them to the Piedmont Players youth production at the Meroney Theater, also going on this weekend.
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A CD of the songs from the show can be ordered at the performance for $5. All proceeds go to support Catawba College’s Blue Masque.
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Contact Sarah Hall at shall@salisburypost.com or 704-797-4271.

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