I find Michael John Lachiusa’s ostentatiously avant-garde writing style frustrating, especially as he clearly has an abundance of talent. He seems to prefer notoriety to actual success, and while I enjoy a number of his scores, you have to admit that his lack of commercial success seems somewhat self-imposed. It’s worth noting that his early work wasn’t like this—in the Nineties, he managed to produce one surprisingly accessible and enjoyable masterpiece, the tuneful and groundbreakingly structured Hello Again.
However, in the year 2000, for better or for worse, he found the style that we now associate with him, and announced it with two shows that went out of their way to alienate the audience and were clearly designed to shock and disturb rather than entertain, Marie Christine and The Wild Party. This was the first, and slightly more accessible, of the two. It retells the classic Greek tragedy of Medea as an Expressionist opera set in turn-of-the-century America, making Medea a half-black Voodoo sorceress and her Jason an ambitious sailor turned would-be politician.
Most of the score, which is based on a blend of African rhythms, improvisational jazz and avant-garde opera, is actually quite fine. In particular, the numbers for Audra McDonald as the title character constitute some of the most fascinating theater music of the decade. “To Find a Lover”, “I Will Give”, “Your Grandfather Is the Sun”, and “I Will Love You” are frankly ravishing, while “Beautiful”, “Way Back to Paradise”, “Tell Me”, and “Prison In a Prison” are some of the wildest, most intense music ever heard on Broadway.
However, while Anthony Crivello gave a suitably magnetic and complex performance in the male lead, the material for his character isn’t nearly as consistent. His first vocal, “The Storm”, and his last, “Your Name”, are in much the same vein as McDonald’s numbers, and he does get two gorgeous ballads in “Ocean Is Different” and “I Don’t Hear the Ocean”, but he’s also saddled with several of the show’s attempts at ‘lighter’ numbers, like “Nothing Beats Chicago”, “Danced With a Girl”, and “The Scorpion”, which tend to be less creatively avant-garde and more simply annoying.
The opening number, “Before the Morning”, is a deliberately alienating way to start the story, as a group of insane women ask the imprisoned Marie Christine to tell her story and chant “I will be a witness!” but the terrifying and desperate mood it sets is appropriate enough for this story. Vivian Reed as Marie Christine’s mother has the haunting, African-influenced lyrical passage “Miracles and Mysteries”, while Mary Testa in a supporting role gets the smoldering jazz ballad “Paradise Is Burning Down”, but also the intensely obnoxious “Cincinnati”.
As the secondary villain, Michael McCormick gets a heavy-handed villain song, “Good Looking Woman”, which displays a certain dishonesty in using racial slurs for shock value in a show set in an era when they would not have had that effect; this may seem like a nitpick, but given how self-righteous Lachiusa’s fanbase are about historical authenticity, it definitely represents a lapse.
Overall, this is an impressive and accomplished composition, arguably Lachiusa’s best score in the 2000s, but it’s still a show that seems almost purposely designed to fail, and I am frankly not surprised it closed so quickly.
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