Review: Urinetown by Southwestern University
by Michael Meigs
Southwestern University students had a joyful frolic with Rick Roemer's vigorous production of the smart-alecky musical Urinetown last week. This show won the 2002 Tony awards for best original score for a musical and for best book of a musical.
The show gives us a cheeky, animated cartoon story of a bleak, bleak future world when water has run out. The common folk are obliged to cross their legs and hold their own water until they can scrimp up the outrageous prices of admission to public toilets. Wicked, wicked Big Businessman Mr. Caldwell B. Cladwell in his pinstripe suit exercises the power of life and death as he reaps in the profits.
Authors Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis are cribbing bits from Bertolt Brecht. For example, they assign cynical commentary about stage business and about the expectations of musical comedy to the imperturbably corrupt policeman Officer Lockstock (Matthew Harper, who has the smiling presence, sonority and shameless confidence of a real rascal). Lauren Knutti as his foil the indignant young idealist Little Sally represents all of the deluded who hope for a better day, and she is adorable at it.
The setting is as nasty as the intrigue. Most of the characters and chorus are in rags, huddled outside the public urinal to beseech tough gal Penelope Pennywise for an indulgence in access to sanitation. Plutocrat Cladwell (Zachary Carr) and his sleek coterie sing of the pleasures of killing bunny rabbits. Offenders against the public sanitation laws are banished to "Urinetown." Office Lockstock telegraphs to us very early on the fact that "Urinetown" is a euphemism for summary execution.
This being a musical, there must be a strong young man (Billy Strong, played by Evan Faram) who resists the tyranny. There must be a pulpy blonde ingénue full of hope (Hope, played with impressive, teetering balance in pink froth and high heels by Laura Platt). The people must rise up against the pressure on their bladders and on their pocketbooks. The baddies seek to suborn the goodies; the people take Hope adorably hostage in order to press her father the wicked Cladwell; Billy Strong walks into the den of iniquity to negotiate free toilets, refuses a suitcase of cash, and -- uh, oh, has our Billy done something rash??
But you didn't have to agree with the premise in order to enjoy the production. Director Roemer and choreographer Judy Thompson-Price provided their cast with the movement, the clowning, the dancing and the devilish humor to keep us all rapt. We did, indeed, laugh at ourselves for wanting the innocents to triumph.
Zachary Carr with his manic gleam as ruler-of-the-world Cladwell had us all complicit with the joke. Evan Faram had all the moves and the fine tenor voice of a hero.That pink-and-blonde caricature of juicy innocence Laura Platt had some flash and steel behind all cuddly softness.Tough girl Kristi Brawner as Penelope Pennyworth turned out to have a heart of gold, and she could sing, too.
In fact, they could all sing and they could all dance like the world was coming to an end.
This was a polished, well-designed, well-lit and exciting production. Every member of that big cast was on top of it, in synch, in character and visibly enjoying the show. Southwestern theatre is always entertaining, and this production was among their best.
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