Mainstage Series returns to live performances with 'The Wild Party'

Doug Osborne-Coy
actors Merrick Allen as Burrs and Lauren Teller as Queenie in costume

“The Wild Party” features Merrick Allen as Burrs and Lauren Teller as Queenie.

Returning to the stage of the Robert W. Marvel Theatre at SUNY Fredonia for the first time in about two years was sure to make the Department of Theatre and Dance production of Andrew Lippa’s musical “The Wild Party” a special occasion.

However, the excitement surrounding the production was taken up a few notches more when Broadway performer Jen Cody, a 1991 Fredonia graduate, was brought in as the show’s choreographer, through the Williams Visiting Professorship Endowment of the Fredonia College Foundation.

Cody was a member of the original cast of Andrew Lippa’s “Wild Party” in the role of Mae and appears on the cast recording. Her other Broadway credits include “Grease,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Seussical,” “The Pajama Game” and “Shrek.” She is also known as the voice of Charlotte in the Disney animated classic “Princess and the Frog.”

“Jen’s choreography is amazing,” said Director Jessica Hillman-McCord. “It’s been such a gift to have her here. She brings so much wisdom and experience to the students, and she’s been incredibly generous with her time and dedication.”

“The Wild Party,” a Walter Gloor Mainstage Series event, opens Oct. 22 for six performances - 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 22; Saturday, Oct. 23; and Thursday, Oct. 28 through Saturday, Oct. 30. There is a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Oct. 24. Tickets are available through the Fredonia Ticket Office in the Williams Center at (716) 673-3501 or online

“It’s based on an evocative Joseph Moncure March poem from 1928,” Hillman-McCord said. “The poem has the feel of a musical. It evokes the ambiance of the ‘20s. It captures the decadence and degradation of people trapped by their circumstances.”

Andrew Lippa’s “The Wild Party” is described as “a steamy prohibition tale, steamrolling and roaring its way across the stage.” It has earned a number of industry accolades, including Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Obie awards. The full description can be found online.

“It’s a dark and gritty production with broken characters doing what they can to scrape through life,” Hillman-McCord said. “The show ends with a glimmer of hope, despite a tragedy. These themes provide excellent challenges for our actors.”

The School of Music provides the pit orchestra under the direction of faculty member James Welch for this Mainstage production, which is part of the Lake Shore Savings Season.

“The music is so rich. The soundtrack has a cult following,” Hillman-McCord said. “The score is very jazzy, but there are beautiful melodies and there are some amazing dance numbers.”

The students have relished the opportunity to work with a Broadway professional such as Cody.

“My favorite part about working with Mrs. Cody is that she gives us a taste of what the professional world is really like,” said Brandin Smalls, who performs the role of Black. “With the experience we get from SUNY Fredonia and the real-life glance from Jen into the professional world, I think her being here really helps us be prepared for future performances.”

For Cody, returning to campus is a way to give back.

“I’m giving whatever I’ve gotten from my years of school back to Fredonia and I love it,” she said. “I love how much the college has grown and the department has grown. I think the talent has grown which is really exciting.”

Hillman-McCord added that the students have brought their best to this production.

“People will enjoy the high level of energy that has gone into this production,” she said. “The actors have been inspired to meet every challenge. The set looks spectacular with the stylized staging. Audiences will be transported by the story telling.”

“The actors have been inspired to meet every challenge. The set looks spectacular with the stylized staging. Audiences will be transported by the story telling.” - Jessica Hillman-McCord

“Wild Party” is for mature audiences only with adult language, mature themes and violent and abusive situations. Current campus COVID protocols required cloth masks be worn at all times inside campus buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

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