That's the plot driver in Andrew Lippa's Wild Party, a sleazily agreeable musical now playing at the Kalliope Stage. Based on a 1928 narrative poem of the same name by Joseph Moncure March, and first staged off Broadway in 2000, this play looks like what you'd get if you stuffed Cabaret and Chicago into a blender set on turbowhip. There's little new thematic ground broken here, but Kalliope gives the material a stylish and decadently fascinating turn.
Set in New York at the end of Prohibition, sultry Queenie is shacked up with alcoholic Burrs, a two-bit clown/comedian with a nasty streak. After one of her beatdowns by Burrs, Queenie decides to throw a bash and torture her jealous lover by coming on to someone -- anyone -- who shows up.
Soon, the festivities are in full swing, and Queenie hooks up with Black (smooth Kyle Wrentz), a dapper fellow who arrives on the arm of a red-haired coke addict named Kate (Jodi Brinkman). Burrs responds as you might expect, and the tragedy that results is quite predictable.
Indeed, from the naive young flapper girls to the dissolute gay boys, it all seems so familiar. Add to that a number of songs that try almost too hard to push the concept embodied in the play's title. After plowing through songs named "What a Party," "Raise the Roof," "A Wild, Wild Party," and "The Life of the Party," it's enough to make you beg for a glass of Alka-Seltzer and a place to lie down.
Fortunately, the music and lyrics penned by Lippa have a restless energy, dipping into genres including jazz, rock, and gospel, and often spinning off in surprising melodic directions. And the evocative choreography, designed and danced by Michael Medcalf and some compatriots from the Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre, adds immensely to the dark, throbbing mood.
Performing on a basically black stage with trapezoidal door and window frames accentuating the slightly distorted reality inside, the Kalliope cast delivers many memorable moments. As Queenie, Melody Moore has a sweet face that readily flickers into toughness -- a chameleon effect that serves her character well. And Tommy Foster has a burly, brutish look that seems threatening, whether he's wearing his bright red nose or not.
One standout song is "An Old-Fashioned Love Story," sung by Elizabeth Rubino as a big-boned lesbian on the prowl for girl meat. Staring at random female prey in the party crowd, she reveals her less-than-demanding standards by crooning, "She's got a quality I like/She's alive."
Director Paul F. Gurgol stages this steamy material with his usual inventiveness, crafting a multitude of small tableaux by using his 15 players in an ever-shifting mural of sybaritic joys. That makes this production a pleasure for the eyes and ears, if not so much for the brain.