Conceived by: David Babani and Andrew Lipps
Produced by: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Directed by: David Babani
Choreographed by: Rebecca Howell
Music direction by: William Liberatore
Featuring: Damian Humbley, Andrew Lippa, Sally Ann Triplett, Teal Wicks
Running time: 145 minutes, one intermission
When: August 24 through September 18, 2016
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Tickets: $19-$80; call 650-463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org
at 'The Life of the Party'
of song-filled revue of Andrew Lippa shows
"The Life of the Party," for the most part, is delightfully, surprisingly entertaining.
And it is revelatory. As in, "Oh! That is how Andrew Lippa's songs are supposed to sound!"
I've seen several shows with Lippa's lyrics and music, but only at smaller theaters, not on Broadway, in Broadway road shows or at the Bay Area's three major theaters.
I have frequently had the thought at Lippa shows that the singers probably were not singing the melody lines as Lippa wrote them. If the chord structure is doing this, then the melody line needs to do that.
Lippa asks a lot of singers in many of his songs. It takes training, it takes excellent vocal chops to deliver his tunes. It takes innate talent. Anybody can sing them to a point, but not everyone can sing them properly.
TheatreWorks' cast for "The Life of the Party" is outrageously good, including Damian Humbley, a star on London's West End; Broadway and West End star Sally Ann Triplett; Broadway star Teal Wicks; and Lippa himself, who not only can sing his own difficult melodies, he can dance and act as well.
It adds up to a magnificent show, with lots of humor and emotion. And great music.
Case in point: "The Moon and Me," which is a lovely tune from "The Addams Family." I have heard it in other productions and enjoyed it without being wowed.
But, Humbley's voice is transcendent. His vocal on this tune, with Lippa plucking away on a ukulele, made it into a yearning, heart-felt love song. The difference between a human being singing and an angel singing.
And then there are the tunes from "The Wild Party." San Jose Stage produced it in June, and it was a mostly terrific show, with fabulous dancers, actors, costumes and set, but the singing simply wasn't as good as what is delivered in "The Life of the Party."
Wicks has a fabulous turn as Queenie from that show, not only delivering Lippa's melodies as written, but getting two of the biggest of the show's many laughs. One was when dressed in a hot red camisole she wrapped a shapely leg around pianist William Libertore as he pounded powerfully on the keyboard. The other was perhaps even funnier, but I'll leave it to surprise you.
Lippa is a charming, droll guy who immediately gets the audience in the palm of his hand we're all friends here, right? and opens with the song "Marshall Levin," about a day when he was a high school sophomore, and he went to the home of a senior to listen to music.
He had a crush on the senior, but was immediately more smitten with the music of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd," that the senior played for him. The song includes the information that Marshall grew up, became a rabbi, married and had children.
But that was OK, because "My heart and I fell out of love with Marshall, and fell in love with Steve."
It was a key moment in the blossoming of Andrew Lippa as a musical theater composer. "The Life of the Party" is loosely linked by the development of his career, with mostly cleverly staged performances of his songs from "John & Jen," "The Big Fish," and other shows.
The series of tunes from "The Addams Family" is fabulous, with Lippa as Gomez, Triplett as Morticia, Humbley as Uncle Fester and Wicks as Wednesday. Again, a show I have seen more than once, but never with better singing or more charming performances.
Triplett was hilarious in the opening sequence for songs from "John & Jen," which is a musical I haven't previously much liked. But ... the songs from it in this show were touching, and beautifully performed. (I won't give away how Triplett makes it fun.)
A very touching segment of the show involved "I Am Harvey Milk," a concept opera Lippa wrote to tell the story of the first gay elected politician in California, who helped create a gay power movement before his assassination in 1978. Lippa tells the story of how Tim Seelig, artistic director and conductor of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, told him the chorus was approaching 10 to 12 different composers and asking them to each write a 5-minute piece based on their impressions of the life of Harvey Milk. Lippa called him right away and asked to do the entire work, which turned out to be a big success. After "The Life of the Party," TheatreWorks Executive Director Phil Santora and his husband, Christian Asher, eyes glistening, talked about having been in San Francisco for that show's premiere.
And the "Wild Party" sequence was for the most part thrilling and wonderful.
But, yet, there were some dull moments. Songs it is hard to love, or care about. Well, that's fair.
Morgan Large's set design makes for a lot of fun, from song to song, as different bits of the many-windowed backdrops are highlighted, or as a shelf makes a prop available.
Lippa opens the show by himself, casually chatting with the audience, then accompanying himself on grand piano. Then his piano slide off, stage right, and the orchestra slides in from stage left, with Liberatore at the keyboard of another grand piano. Also riding in are Candace Guirao on violin, and Emily Onderdonk and Kris Yenney on cellos.
Through the show, there are times when Liberatore slides slightly upstage, to play a barely visible keyboard, while Lippa takes over at the grand. It all makes for some beautiful music. Liberatore, by the way, sings in this show, only the second time he has done so in the many TheatreWorks shows for which he has been music director. The other was "Smokey Joe's Cafe," in the 2002-2003 season.
There's plenty of dancing. Lippa and Humbley won't make anybody forget Fred Astaire, but they are fun. Triplett and Wicks are very good movers. Choreography by Rebecca Howell.
Large also designed the costumes the ones for "The Addams Family" scenes were outrageous and fun.
Brendan Aanes' sound design was flawless, as was Tim Lutkin's lighting.
Really, a delightful time in the theater.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org