note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Caroline Burlingham Ellis
Special to Theater Mirror
It would be hard to exaggerate the deliciousness of "Urinetown: The Musical" now playing at Beatrice Herford's Vokes Theatre. The production is a triumph. Stephen McGonagle has outdone himself with a set that glides from an elaborately realized underground sewer to a tiled public washroom with classical columns to a sleek Art Deco office building. The set itself is worth the price of admission.
The script by Greg Kotis--who collaborated on lyrics with the show's composer, Mark Hollmann--is clever and camp. It's sort of a "Threepenny Opera Lite," a musical that keeps the audience laughing despite all the bad things that happen. "Urinetown" is not as dark as shows by Brecht and Weill but pays homage through social commentary leavened with memorable songs and ironic humor.
As the musical opens, a line of desperate citizens squirm in front of Amenity No. 9 counting their change and waiting to pay for a turn at the public toilet. The toilets are owned by the ruthless Urine Good Company, which bribes lawmakers to criminalize answering the call of nature anywhere but in the company’s fee-only latrines--workplaces, homes, bushes are all forbidden.
The founder of Urine Good Company, Caldwell B. Cladwell (Robert Mackie), got his entrepreneurial brainstorm after the dreadful "stinky" years caused by severe water shortages. As he puts it, "Worldwide ecological devastation has a way of changing a man." Now Cladwell makes millions off the masses, aided and abetted by the corrupt Senator Fipp (David Herder) and two trusty enforcers, Officers Lockstock (David Berti) and Barrel (Bill Stambaugh).
Under the playful direction of Donnie Baillargeon, the cast sparkles. Although a few actors have to contend with notes beyond their range, the singing is generally strong, as is the dancing to Jennifer Condon's exhilarating choreography. The song and dance number "Snuff That Girl" brings down the house.
Kendall Hodder (as Bobby Strong, the hero of the Poor) and Sarah Consentino (as Hope Cladwell) play ill-starred lovers. A few years back, Consentino gave a remarkable rendition of "Jonah Man" in the Vokes production of "Tintypes," but that show only hinted at her ability.
In "Urinetown," Consentino's character seems to switch without effort from a Barbara Cook ingenue voice to an Aretha Franklin voice belting out "Run, Freedom, Run" as though her afterlife depended on it. In their singing ability, theatrical physicality and mobile, expressive faces, Consentino and Hodder are an inspired match. The effervescent Peri Chouteau--as Little Sally, a child who asks all the right questions and gets all the wrong answers--flits back and forth between the rich and the poor, throwing out practical solutions for water conservation to the indulgent but dismissive Lockstock.
Officer Lockstock doubles as the musical's narrator, a role Berti carries off with zest. The script's arch commentary on itself could be fatally distracting but instead keeps the environmental message from heavy-handedness.
Janet Ferreri as Penelope Pennywise, a hard-hearted woman with a soft-hearted secret, is a raucous presence. In fact, the whole cast is thoroughly entertaining. Paul Brennan III as bad guy McQueen and the versatile ensemble--Mark W. Soucy, Katie Ford, Kristen Palson, Brian Toney, Bill Spera, Kathy Lague and the hilariously deadpan Max Bisantz--transport playgoers to a world that, however fantastical, bears an eerie resemblance to the one that we know.
The lively score includes hummable numbers like the lovers' "Follow Your Heart" and the song of the Poor, "Look at the Sky." The score won a Tony Award in 2002 on Broadway, one of three Tonys that "Urinetown" received that year. Mario Cruz is the music director for the Vokes production, Jack Wickwire is behind the zany wigs and makeup, and JoAnne Powers is responsible for a colorful array of quick-change costumes.
D Schweppe's lighting is as professional as ever and includes a superb Hitchcock-like effect--a whirling shadow over a character who is falling from a building. The behind-the-scenes orchestra headed by Cruz on keyboard includes Lisa Hudson, Jerilyn Sykes, Dave Cross, Anthony Hudson and Kevin Burke. Robert Zawistowski is sound designer, John Murtagh is stage manager, and Anne Damon is producer.
"Urinetown: The Musical" has been extended through Nov. 18. For further information, go to http://www.vokesplayers.org or call (508) 358-4034