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Queenie was a blonde
—Joseph Moncure March, opening lines of the poem and both musicals
An epic poem by Joseph Moncure March, written in and about The Roaring Twenties. In the story, two vaudeville performers, Queenie (a dancer) and Burrs (a clown) begin a lustful romance and move into a Manhattan apartment together. After a while, however, the lust wears off and Queenie decides to throw a party to shake things up. The guest list includes many colorful characters: Madelaine True, a lesbian; Dolores, a Mexican hooker; Eddie, a dim boxer and his even dimmer wife Mae; Oscar and Phil d'Armano, two flamboyantly gay brothers; Jackie, a bisexual dancer; and Nadine, a minor. Things start to get hot when Queenie's friend Kate arrives with a charmer named Black, who catches Queenie's eye and sparks Burrs' jealousy.
Considered extremely racy for its time, it wasn't allowed to be published until two years after it was written, and even then with only a very limited run (750 copies). The Wild Party was adapted into a poorly-received film in 1975, and two musicals in 2000, one on Broadway (by Michael John LaChiusa) and one off-Broadway (by Andrew Lippa).
Lippa's version is closer in plot to March's poem and keeps the focus on the Love Triangle, and features modern pop/rock orchestrations. LaChiusa's departs from the original by fleshing out the Backstory and Character Development of the large cast, notably bringing aspects of March's poem "The Set Up" to boxer Eddie. This version incorporates many pastiches of the music and show business of The Roaring Twenties.
- All Musicals Are Adaptations: the 1994 reissue of the long-out-of-print poem directly inspired both LaChiusa and Lippa, resulting in the Dueling Shows. In Lippa's version, the trope also occurs in-universe when the brothers d'Armano announce their newly-written musical Good Heavens, which is based on The Bible.
- Ambiguously Brown: Dolores claims to be Spanish although the poem says she is actually "somewhat Negro and a great deal Jew." Played by the less ambiguously brown Eartha Kitt (LaChiusa) and Kena Tangi Dorsey (Lippa).
- Anything That Moves: The "ambisextrous" Jackie.
- Attempted Rape: on the jailbait Nadine; in the poem the rapist is never named, LaChiusa makes it Jackie. (It can't be Jackie in the poem because he passes out cold immediately before the scene in question. However, in LaChiusa's version, the act comes across as... very much in-character for Jackie.)
- Big Applesauce: Only in New York would you see a party quite like this.
- Brother-Brother Incest: The Brothers d'Armano. Depends on the production; they may be Not Blood Siblings, but rather "brothers" in their show business act.
- But Liquor Is Quicker
- Camp Gay: Again, the Brothers d'Armano.
- Ceiling Banger: The neighbor.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Burrs
- Dark Reprise: From LaChiusa's version:
- "Queenie was a Blonde" is first given a sensational, falsely enthusiastic reprise immediately after Burrs' death, but then Queenie's solo reiteration — tearful, confused and alone — qualifies as a proper Dark Reprise.
- "Marie Is Tricky" appears first as Burr's vaudeville act; then it gets nasty when it returns in "How Many Women in the World".
- The jaunty, fun tune "Dry", which introduces most of the guests, is reprised once by the menacing Burrs in "Gin", then by the entire company to hectic, desperate effect in "Wild".
- Queenie's number "Welcome to My Party" is explicitly recalled by Burrs' spiteful, incisive "Welcome to Her Party" near the end.
- During the aforementioned "Wild", you can hear Jackie repeat a line from his "I Am" Song, "Breezin' Through Another Day": "S'long as I keep a free hand...!" This is after he has seduced Oscar d'Armano and caused strife between the two brothers.
- "Uptown", the d'Armano brothers' first ditty, is also reprised during "Wild" — no lyrics are repeated, but Oscar feigns cheerily playing through the chord progression while Phil explodes at him for his infidelity.
- And "Eddie & Mae" is also given a Dark Reprise during "Wild" as the husband and wife fly into a screaming match. Yeah... "Wild" is a pretty dense number.
- "A Little Mmm" deserves mention for being just about the only reprised song that isn't darker the second time around. It's more somber, but when the brothers d'Armano tenderly return to this melody during an interlude in "Golden Boy", it's because they're coming around to forgiveness and reconciliation.
- "The Lights of Broadway", though it doesn't emerge as a full-fledged song until near the end of the show, was first divulged during Nadine's introduction in "Welcome to My Party". It's a bright, shiny, saccharine Broadway showtune par excellence... and when we hear her sing it in full, the sixteen-year-old girl is (according to the original production's staging) sitting on a bed snorting coke with Depraved Bisexual Jackie at his most wolfishly charming. That visual makes the entire number way more uncomfortable and foreboding.
- And finally, "How Many Women in the World?" comes back for a brief reprise during the climax: slow, dark, and heavy with the intent to kill.
- Depraved Bisexual: In the LaChiusa musical, Jackie attempts to rape Mae's inebriated teenage sister.
- Dueling Shows: Both musicals opened in New York in 2000 within two months of each other, and neither was very successful: the Broadway version lasted 68 performances, while the off-Broadway version lasted 54.
- Dumb Blonde: Mae, in all versions (though she proves to have a mean streak in LaChiusa's).
- The Eleven O'Clock Number: Dolores has "When It Ends" in the LaChiusa; Queenie has "How Did We Come to This?" in the Lippa
- Ensemble Cast: makes both musicals very popular with university theatre programs
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Eddie and Mae.
- Love Dodecahedron: Queenie/Burrs/Black is the Love Triangle whose violent resolution makes up the climax of all versions of the story. However, in all versions (especially Lippa's), Kate also intervenes with designs upon Burrs, forming a Love Square. Meanwhile, in LaChiusa's version, Jackie tries to lure Oscar d'Armano away from Phil, and there are a couple of allusions to funny business between Kate and Eddie, to the anger of his wife Mae. But both of these Beta Couples tenderly reunite over the course of the song "Golden Boy".
- Madness Makeover: LaChiusa has Burrs drunkenly apply his Blackface makeup during "How Many Women in the World" as he prepares to Murder the Hypotenuse.
- Minstrel Shows: LaChiusa makes Burrs a comedic minstrel performer rather than a traditional Monster Clown.
- Monster Clown: Burrs.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Burrs tries to, but Black is the one who succeeds.
- A Party - Also Known as an Orgy: What the party eventually turns into.
- Sanity Slippage Song: In the Lippa musical, it's Burrs' drunkenness and jealousy-induced "Make Me Happy," which serves as the show's climax. LaChiusa's "How Many Women in the World", though not occupying the same place in the narrative structure, similarly charts Burrs' descent into incoherent rage.
- The Speechless: In Lippa's version, Jackie has no tongue.
- Title Drop: In both musicals. LaChiusa's version has a song called "Wild Party", and Lippa's has one called "A Wild, Wild Party."
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Queenie and Kate are a particularly bitter case of Type 2, especially in LaChiusa's duet "Best Friend."
- The Voiceless: LaChiusa's Sally is practically catatonic for most of the party, only to deliver the devastating Minor Character, Major Song "After Midnight Dies" as a soliloquy.
- White Dwarf Starlet: Dolores, especially in "Moving Uptown."
- Yiddish as a Second Language: Gold and Goldberg in "The Movin' Uptown Blues." It's implied they started in Yiddish theatre and want to expand to broader vaudeville audiences.
- You Have to Have Jews / But Not Too Jewish: Gold and Goldberg. Jews make good theatrical producers, but they note other examples of Jews who have had to Race Lift themselves to success. Gold insists Goldberg change his name to the catchier and more marketable "Golden."
- Illustration by Art Spiegelman