The Other Palace was formerly the St James Theatre until purchased and handsomely rebranded by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with Paul Taylor-Mills (whose recent producing credits include the Olivier-winning In the Heights) installed as artistic director. The plan is to use the space for new musicals, works in progress and seldom seen shows.
The venue’s inaugural production falls into the latter category with this deliciously decadent and suitably wild production of Michael John LaChiusa and George C Wolfe’s jazz-age musical, based on a controversial narrative poem, which had a short run of just 68 performances on Broadway in 2000.
It transports the audience to 1920s New York where fading vaudeville singer Queenie (Frances Ruffelle) and her husband and fellow performer Burrs (John Owen-Jones) throw a party for friends and acquaintances to give some oomph to their relationship. And if they can catch the eye of two Broadway hotshots along the way, all the better.
As the gin and cocaine flow, resentments, petty jealousies and infidelities are revealed as proceedings become ever more wild and wayward.
The parade of guests – including a stripper, an ex-boxing champ, a gigolo, two song and dance brothers and a naïve out-of-town gal dreaming of stardom – all have their story to tell and by the second act it does begin to feel a little like each person coming on to do their turn.
But director/choreographer Drew McConie has worked wonders with what is often a paper-thin narrative to make this an exuberant and breathless ride. He’s well served by a smoking hot band under the musical direction of Theo Jamieson and a faultless company serving up some cracking performances.
Frances Ruffelle is a compelling mix of world-weary and vulnerable as Queenie, John Owen-Jones commands the stage as her melancholy clown partner, and Victoria Hamilton-Barrit is irresistibly sassy and sexy as Queenie’s friend and rival Kate — their smokey vocals on the duet Best Friend is a real highlight.
It’s not without its problems — the band overwhelmed some of the vocals on the night I went with lyrics getting a little lost — but this show feels a perfect fit for the venue, and it’s a fine christening for Lloyd Webber’s new venture.
The Wild Party is at The Other Palace until 1 April