Commentary

Vaudevillian play brings an edge to North Raleigh theater

CorrespondentMarch 18, 2014 

From left, Randi Winter (Jackie), Brent Blakesly (Phil D’Armano) and Josh Kellum (Oscar D’Armano) jazz it up with the rest of the cast during a musical number in “The Wild Party.” The play runs through March 23 at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre.

COURTESY OF NORTH RALEIGH THEATER ARTS

The North Raleigh theater scene is growing. Not just mean in size, but also in scope. The latest production from the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre (NRACT) exemplifies this fact. And beware: It’s suitable for mature audiences only.

The Wild Party is a vaudevillian production about two performers with voracious sexual appetites that can also be, well, perverse and violent. The production is about their relationship and the damage they do to each other.

And, as these things do, the fallout results in death.

The director of the musical this time around is Craig Johnson. He’s moving up from his role as musical director at the theater. This is his first time being the main director on a production.

“I had a particular vision that I wanted to bring to the stage, and I felt this was a good opportunity,” he said.

NRACT aims to please a variety of audience members with diverse interests, Johnson said, which is one of the reasons he wanted to do this production.

“NRATC is a teaching theater,” he said. “That is one of its primary goals. But it is also a theater that is looking to expand and grow. So we have a variety of shows in our season.

“The theme of human brokenness and redemption is a theme that will resonate not only with North Raleigh audiences, but audiences everywhere because it is so central to our existence as human beings,” he said in an e-mail.

He also mentioned that it’s a good show for North Raleigh because the theater-goers here have greater exposure to a variety of artistic themes audiences than in other places.

“The way in which the story is told through the melding of elements from Shakespeare, the Roaring Twenties and contemporary musical influences will particularly appeal to a more sophisticated theater-going audience,” he said in an e-mail.

Josh Kellum, 19, had worked with Johnson before, which was one of the reasons he wanted to do this production. He considers his work on this production to be a process of growing up.

"I went from shows such as "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" and "Cinderella," to this show where people are on stage in their underwear," he said.

He said he put his trust in the production staff, who did an excellent job making sure the actors were comfortable at every step of the production, but he found the musical aspect a challenge.

“The score for the show was very complex,” he said in an e-mail. “Personally, the music was a challenge for me. Lippa (Andrew Lippa, the creator of the play) was very ambitious with his composition, giving characters large vocal ranges and creating chords that at times seemed random.”

Jon Todd, 30, said this is the most challenging show he’s ever worked on.

“The music is complicated, the script is challenging, the sets and costumes have to be amazing or there is no point in even doing it,” he said in an e-mail. “In my opinion, it is the most ambitious show NRACT has ever done.”

And that’s the great thing about North Raleigh and this theater in particular. The area and the theater aren’t content to provide bubble-gum entertainment to a busy crowd. They want to stretch and grow — something I see in areas like downtown Durham and downtown Raleigh, but don’t always associate with places like North Raleigh.

This production shows that North Raleigh can be just as ambitious, though it may be less immediately obvious to the casual observer.

If you want to see it, it’s not too late. The show is on through March 23. Go here for more information: http://www.nract.org/upcoming-productions/the-wild-party.

Alex Granados writes about interesting people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him via email at agranadoster@gmail.com

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