For many years, the University of Southern Maine in Gorham has produced family-friendly musicals in the fall.

But not this year.

“It was time to do something dark and edgy,” said Ed Reichert, who directs “The Wild Party” Friday through Sunday at Corthell Concert Hall.

“The Wild Party” has been a cult hit among musical theater folks since it was staged off-Broadway in New York in 2000. A lot of traditional music theaters can’t produce the show, because its subject matter is controversial. It contains violence, sexual content and off-color language — great for colleges, but risky for mainstream theaters.

This weekend’s performances mark the Maine premiere.

Reichert saw the show in New York a decade ago, soon after it opened. He’s been waiting for an opportunity to produce it locally ever since.

This year, the combination of talent and enthusiasm among students made it the right time, he said.

“The Wild Party” is set in the 1920s, and atmospherically feels something like a cross between the musicals “Chicago” and “Cabaret.” It tells the story of Queenie and Burrs. She’s a vaudeville dancer; he’s a stage clown. Their relationship is difficult and filled with reckless behavior.

Queenie decides to throw a party to end all parties, and invites characters who revel in the fashions, affectations and habits of the jazz era. Her goal is to make Burrs jealous, but much to her surprise, she ends up falling in love with a man named Mr. Black. Meanwhile, Kate, Queenies’ best friend who’s also at the party, is determined to nab Burrs.

“It doesn’t work out all that well for at least one person — at least, not the way it would work out in a traditional musical,” said Reichert. “But nothing about this show is traditional.”

Andrew Lippa’s score is all over the place, with traditional vaudeville sounds, R&B, jazz and songs with familiar show-tune flavor. The music percolates with rich and complex harmonies.

Lippa, who also wrote the book, cited as inspiration a 1928 poem with the same title by Joseph Moncure March. The book-length poem was deemed profane at the time, and it fell into obscurity until artist Art Spiegelman found an original edition and published an illustrated version in 1999.

Rylee Doiron of Wilton, Jeremiah Haley of Portland and Kyle Dennis of Pittsfield portray Queenie, Burrs and Mr. Black, respectively. Kelly Mosher of Marstons Mills, Mass., plays Kate. Kelly Fantigrossi designed the choreography.

Because “The Wild Party” is being staged at Corthell, production values are limited. The entire show is set in the couple’s apartment, which Reichert has recreated on Corthell stage.

A nine-piece band, including a four-piece horn section, will perform in the back of Corthell, above the audience.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]


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