Andrew Lippa's Wonderous Revue
When staging a revue that pays homage to a star in the musical theatre firmament, why not have that very personage actually in the show?
Such is the case with Life of the Party. Currently showing at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, it's a lively montage of the works of Andrew Lippa, starring Lippa himself. It's a bold move, but it pays off in spades, as Lippa sings, dances and plays piano and ukulele to showcase his successful, and still unfolding, career.
In fact, the show wouldn't work without Lippa—who could possibly play him? One presumes the production will live only as long as Lippa wants to do it. As such, Life of the Party presents a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with one of Broadway's brightest stars. Tickets to this short-running show are sure to sell out fast.
Lippa opens the performance at the piano with a song called "Marshall Leven." It tells of a first crush, which leads to his introduction to musical theatre and Stephen Sondheim. It's sweet, it's funny, and it presents the man behind the music—who, as it turns out—loves to entertain.
Lippa is soon joined by four musicians, including the show's music director, William Liberatore, while he explains what we're about to experience: a romp through most of Lippa's shows, from the obscure to the well-known, in a series of vignettes.
He's also joined by a fine trio of performers—Damian Humbley, who appeared in the show's original cast in London, as well as Sally Ann Triplett and Teal Wicks, both veterans of numerous Broadway and regional musicals. We leap right into Big Fish, Lippa's musical adaptation of Daniel Wallace's 1998 novel. Humbley takes the lead in "Be the Hero," then duets with Wicks on "Time Stops." Triplett becomes the mother for "I Don't Need a Roof," and Humbley and Lippa duet on "Fight the Dragons."
Sometimes they do just one number from a show, as when Wicks gives a comely rendition of "Live Out Loud" from A Little Princess; other times they do a cluster of hits, like four fabulous numbers from The Addams Family. Lippa and Triplett are marvelous as Gomez and Morticia, Wicks is a delightfully wicked Wednesday, and Humbley a funny Fester. Choreography by Lynne Page and Rebecca Howell stand out in this section. But the star is undeniably Lippa, who turns out to be witty, charming and endearing, in addition to his ample talents. His autobiographical commentary provides the glue between numbers and gives glimpses into the story of one man's career—and life—path.
It's enjoyable to hear lesser-known works, such as the heart-breaking "Love Somebody Now," rendered with finely tuned emotion by Triplett; or the surprising song from a not-so-shy Cinderella, delivered with glee by Wicks.
The second act showcases wonderful Triplett and Humbley duets from John & Jen, Lippa's very first musical. The Wild Party is Lippa's best-known and most-produced musical, so it's fitting that we're regaled with a selection of numbers, including "Life of the Party," "Let Me Drown," "An Old-Fashioned Love Story," and "Poor Child." The ensemble gives a most satisfying performance of these beautiful songs.
The show is brought home with a rousing series of numbers in rapid succession, including the inspiring "You Are Here," from Lippa's oratorio, I Am Harvey Milk. The ending is touching, and brings us full circle, enjoying the man at his piano, doing what he loves.
The excellent ensemble brilliantly evokes both serious and comic moods, and all have fabulous voices: Humbley's is smooth as silk, Wicks has a knockout Broadway belt, and Triplett can sell either quiet or comic with sass and aplomb.
Scenic design by Morgan Large creates an attractive variety of projections and backdrops that convey numerous settings. Tim Lutkin's lighting design is show-appropriate and dramatic, but relies heavily on stage fogging, which is distracting when thick. Large also excels as costume designer, generating multiple outfits for each performer.
Life of the Party is a thoroughly fun and fascinating evening of entertainment—a true treat for musical theatre fans.
Life of the Party: A Celebration of the Songs of Andrew Lippa
Thru Sep 18, Various Times, $78-$30
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts