Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Urinetown: The Musical"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann
book and lyrics by Greg Kotis

directed by Donnie Baillargeon
musical direction by Mario Cruz
choreography by Jennifer Condon

Officer Lockstock … David Berti
Little Sally … Peri Chouteau
Penelope Pennywise … Janet Ferreri
Bobby Strong … Kendall Hodder
Mr. McQueen … Paul Brennan III
Senator Fipp … David Herder
Old Man Strong; Hot Blades Harry … Mark W. Soucy
Tiny Tom; Dr. Billeaux … Max Bisantz
Soupy Sue; Mrs. Millennium … Katie Ford
Little Becky Two Shoes; Secretary … Kristen Palson
Robby the Stockfish; UGC #1 … Brian Toney
Billy Boy Bill; UGC #2 … Bill Spera
Old Woman; Josephine Strong; UGC #3 … Kathy Lague
Hope Cladwell … Sarah Consentino
Officer Barrel … Bill Stambaugh
Caldwell B. Cladwell … Robert Mackie


Conductor; Keyboard … Mario Cruz
Bass … Lisa Hudson
Woodwinds … Jerilyn Sykes; Dave Cross
Trombone; Euphonium … Anthony Hudson
Percussion … Kevin Burke

URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL remains one of the best New Musicals: five years ago, this satire with the unsettling title gathered three Tony Awards to its soiled breast and had a healthy Broadway run, to boot; since then, it has gone on to become America’s THREEPENNY OPERA, arty enough for the intelligentsia yet popular with the masses. The plot is pure comic book: Caldwell B. Cladwell, the corrupt owner of Urine Good Company (UGC) exploits his city’s water shortage by banning private toilets and charging the citizens a fee to use the public restrooms; those who buck the system are carted off to the dreaded “Urinetown”. The idealistic Bobby Strong leads a rebellion against UGC despite falling in love with Cladwell’s daughter Hope; the evening does not conclude as expected but is far too cheeky to succumb to pessimism or despair. URINETOWN’s satire remains consistent without losing its smiling bite; even more astonishing is the fact that the influences of Bertoldt Brecht (his alienation theories), Mark Blitzstein (THE CRADLE WILL ROCK) and the gods of the Golden Age of the American Musical can be felt throughout yet Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman serve up an entertainment with a flavor all its own and sharp enough to awaken today’s jaded palettes. None of URINETOWN’s songs may ever hit the Top 40 charts but they are catchy and work brilliantly in context; the score’s many highlights include the self-serving tribute “Mr. Cladwell”, the nightmarish “Cop Song” accented with flashlights and, especially, the gospel-rich “Run, Freedom, Run!”, as joyous a showstopper if ever there was one.

I wondered how the Vokes production could ever top last year’s triumph at the Lyric Stage and if the former doesn’t surpass the latter, it is just as good and therefore just as great (a tribute to both Messrs. Kotis and Hollman’s creation and the ever-growing excellence of Boston’s community theatre); could this be one of those rare shows where it is impossible to do a so-so job? The Lyric’s three-quarter thrust floor had the audience looking down on the characters as if peeping into a manhole; the Vokes’ low, intimate stage keeps everything at eye-level but with no sense of proscenium distancing (think: cabaret). The Lyric’s URINETOWN had a metallic, smoky taste; the Vokes’ mise en scène may be just as grimy but Donnie Baillargeon’s direction is warmer and the performances more human, allowing the romantic moments to go down more smoothly as well as slyly leading you to believe that Man can change for the better, after all… Kendall Hodder’s Bobby Strong, though a bit of a lump, is believably downtrodden and Mr. Hodder’s thin but elastic vocals triumph over the score’s demands, for the most part; the character Hope must evolve from mock-ingenue to boardroom dominatrix with charm as her main ingredient and Sarah Consentino achieves this sweetly but never cloys. Robert Mackie is a cuddly ol’ Cladwell in keeping with Mr. Baillargeon’s vision, balanced by Janet Ferreri as an alleycat Penelope Pennywise who could stop Brecht & Weill in their tracks (“Surabaya Johnny”, anyone?). The Lyric’s Little Sally mugged, throughout; the Vokes’ Peri Chouteau could never pass as a child and wisely declaims her lines simply and directly; Kathy Lague is impressive bedrock as Bobby’s mother and those bookend thugs Officers Lockstock and Barrel are embodied by David Berti, that self-effacing leading man and, as always, a great onstage listener, and the wonderful Bill Stambaugh at his most sardonic --- he’s got my vote as Old Crookback in the Vokes’ upcoming RICHARD III. URINETOWN is such an ensemble piece that no one in its so-called chorus has a change to sit backstage, for long, since they must be protean, be a part of the social landscape and be able to switch musical gears in an instant --- hosannas, then, to Max Bisantz, Paul Brennan III, Katie Ford, David Herder, Kristen Palson, Mark W. Soucy, Bill Spera and Brian Toney, who prove there are neither small roles NOR small actors.

On the night I attended, the packed house was composed of the silver- and golden-aged who seem to be the ones who regularly support community theatre; if so, I am saddened that there are few youngbloods laying the foundations for future audiences --- on the other hand, this particular audience “got” URINETOWN within minutes and had a grand old time. Happily, the Vokes run has been extended; like Bobby Strong, one can always hope for a better future…

"Urinetown: The Musical" (26 October-18 November)
Route 20, WAYLAND, MA
1 (508) 358-4034

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide