And now we come to the other show, based on the same source material and bearing the same title, that, in one of Broadway’s oddest coincidences, opened the same year as the very different musical by Michael John Lachiusa. Oddly, the off-Broadway Wild Party was a far more commercial and Broadway-ready (and, incidentally, far better) piece of work than the one that actually played the street.
That’s not to say it was anywhere near flawless, though. The main problem with the show is composer Andrew Lippa’s unwise application of DIY ethics: he wrote the entire show more or less on his own, and as a result the lyrics are pretty close to rock bottom and the book isn’t that much better.
That said, this is one of the five or six best scores of the decade. It gets some complaints regarding its anachronistic use of rock sounds, but most of those complaints come from people trying to build up the Lachiusa version in comparison to this one, and if you think the Lachiusa Wild Party is authentic period jazz, you don’t have as much room to be snooty about your musical sophistication as you think.
Anyway, shows don’t always have to use music that’s appropriate to the period (look at Sunday In the Park With George, which sounds absolutely nothing like anything that was around in Nineteenth-century France); what matters is that the music fit the show, and this score’s mind-blowing mix of jazz and rock perfectly fits as the soundtrack to the greatest party ever thrown, which is what this show is aiming for.
Beyond that, it’s just glorious music any way you slice it: almost every number is a showstopper, the tunes are memorable, and the whole thing is mind-blowingly intense and energy-charged…wild, in fact. The four leads (Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs, Brian D’arcy-James, and newcomer Julia Murney, who everyone had pegged as the next big star at the time) all do spectacular vocal justice to the material, and the show’s idiotic lyrics are ultimately overpowered by the sheer blasting power of the music.
I honestly think that for all its faults, the show might have been a hit and even transferred to Broadway, if it hadn’t had the bad luck to open the same season as another show with the same title and subject matter that was actively trying to flop, staining the name of its more commercial off-Broadway counterpart with its very presence and drawing away business with its Broadway pedigree and bigger-name cast.
Still, the show has earned a place in the top echelon of cult flops of the 2000s, and while Andrew Lippa would go on to much greater commercial success with the Addams Family musical, this is still the show that originally launched him to prominence within his field, and it remains his best and most accessible work to date.