Saturday, November 04, 2006

Your Ticket Should Say Urinetown

Here's my 4th review for class. This one was 700 words, which proved to be a challenge after the 300 word review. At first I thought I wouldn't have enough to say, but then as I started writing, I realized I had more than enough to say, too much, in fact. Anyway, here is what I came up with:

A bad title and bad subject matter can “kill a show pretty good” according to the opening song in Urinetown. The macabre musical comedy has both, but that didn’t stop it from winning three Tony Awards in 2002 for best director (John Rando), best original score (Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis), and best book of a musical (Greg Kotis). It may be about bodily functions, but Urinetown was a Broadway hit, and now it’s being tackled by Syracuse University drama students.

Urinetown, directed by Syracuse University faculty member Marie Kemp, opened on Oct. 13 and is playing at the Arthur Storch Theatre until Oct. 22. An appropriate choice for a college audience, the show appeals to those who love musical theatre as well as those who despise it, as Hollman and Kotis embrace the history of Broadway while simultaneously making fun of its traditions.

As the audience members waited for the overture to start, a man wandered through the back of the packed house, trying to find a seat. Two police officers who were clearly actors dragged him into a jail-like structure on stage right where the orchestra was waiting. The man turned out to be Nathan Hurwitz, the conductor, who stayed in character, reluctantly taken up his baton to lead the musicians in the horn-heavy overture.

In the Brechtian opening number, “Too Much Exposition,” Officer Lockstock, perfectly cast Eric Bilitch, and Little Sally, the disappointing Amy Walsh, welcome the audience to Urinetown the musical. The town is suffering from a water shortage and private bathrooms have become obsolete. The only types of amenities are pay as you go and those who can’t pay get carted off to Urinetown, a “mythical place filled with symbolism and things like that,” Lockstock tells us in his deep announcer-like voice.

The narrative banter between Lockstock and Sally would be more effective if Walsh stayed in character. She fluctuated in and out of her childlike voice and she lacked the comedic timing that Bilitch excels at.

Urine Good Company (UGC), owned by Caldwell B. Cladwell (Adam J. Wahlberg), controls the public amenities. The hero of the story is Bobby Strong, played by Dan Scott, who looks the part with his “sweet face,” but has a voice too feeble for such a major role. His microphone often sounded muffled, making his quiet voice sound even more unintelligible. His love interest is Cladwell’s daughter, Hope (Colleen Fee). Their relationship comes out of nowhere, as is often the case in musical comedy. As Officer Lockstock tells Sally, “He’s the true hero of the show, she has to love him.”

Set designer, Maria Marrero, a professor at Syracuse University, and costume designer, junior Megan Moriarty, create a look not bound to a specific time period. The minimal and dreary set of the town that makes excellent use of ladders and raggedy costumes are indistinguishable from the Broadway production.

The scenes at the UGC are quite a contrast. Wahlberg, the most talented in the cast, is as thin and dapper as Fred Astaire, which is fitting as the elegant office decor and pin-striped suits could very well be taken out of a 1940s musical. During “Mr. Cladwell,” the sophisticatedly dressed employees caress his ego in a song and dance number recalling “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here” from Annie.

The music pokes fun at many different traditions. “Act One Finale” satirizes Les Miserables in all its operatic grandeur and includes a hilarious slow motion running gag.

“Snuff That Girl,” a brilliant send-up of West Side Story’s “Cool,” complete with finger snaps and “Bangs!” and “Booms!,” gave the supporting cast a chance to shine, thanks in part to Erin McDowell’s evocative choreography.

Although the mic problem was not fixed by the second act, Scott redeemed himself and delivered a rousing performance along with the ensemble cast for the memorable gospel number, “Run Freedom Run.”

The final lines in the show are, “Hail, Malthus!” in honor of Thomas Malthus, the political economist who believed that human populations will increase until checked by natural limitations. A happy ending it’s not, but as Little Sally says, “The music is so happy,” and theatergoers leave the theatre humming, having been thoroughly entertained for the past two and a half hours.

1 comment:

Adam J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.