Urinetown, The Musical, book by Greg Kotis, music and lyrics by Mark Hollman; directed by Bert Bernardi.
Preparing for the world they inherited
Lara Hayhurst as Hope and Eric Richardson as Bobby
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
At the end of the finale of the first act of this engrossing musical play a character named Officer Lockstock turns and informs us that this is the end of the finale and we are heading into the intermission. As he and many of the other upper-class characters are busily pursuing the lower classes - in slow-motion - through the streets of a "Gotham-like city" we are already well aware of the nature of this show. We are in the world of the iconic-ironic, the chronic-teutonic, the parable people. Unlike any other trips through this land, any earlier experiences that have caused us to join the fleeing folk on stage right, we’re having too good a time to even think about departing. We’re at Urinetown, The Musical at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, and we’re enjoying the hit of the Berkshire Summer Season.
Director Bert Bernardi may well have been born to put on this play. He seems to have fine-tuned it perfectly for the simple stage setup designed by Abe Phelps. One moveable wall, a bridge connected by two staircases and a desk and chair comprise most of the simple set, one that functions perfectly for every moment in this show about some human functions. And yes, you guessed it, the title tells the tale - we’re in a place where urine is a prime commodity and one must pay through the nose to use public facilities to relieve oneself through other body parts. It sounds gross, I know, but it’s actually funny and emotionally wrenching.
Bernardi is most likely the uncredited choreographer as well. His deft parodies of Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse are perfectly attuned to the theme and scheme of the show and his superb cast, in just a few weeks rehearsal, opened a picture perfect and rapturous show with precise movement, note-perfect singing and deeply felt, pitch-perfect characterizations. No need here, at the Barn, for a two and half week preview for a one week run.
Bobby Strong, played beautifully if slightly too softly, by Eric Richardson, works at a public facility, doing his civic best to make his own friends and family pay the full amount to pee legally. When his father is carted off by the police for using a wall out of desperation, Bobby rebels and leads a raggle-tag group of dissidents underground where they plot the overthrow of the Caldwell B. Cladwell regime. As he does this, he falls in love with Cladwell’s daughter, who believes in Bobby, but also believes in her father.
Brechtian in plot, Weill-like in much of its music, the show was a multiple Tony Award winner just a few years ago. The show’s characters confront a government that is aiming at complete control of everything including the independent actions of all its citizens. That there are stunning parallels to today’s government actions is remarkable...or perhaps just far-seeing on the part of the authors. Among the odd twists the plot takes Hope Cladwell turns out to be the true leader of the rebellion, much as Polly Peachum in the Brecht-authored film version of his own musical hit, The Threepenny Opera. Kotis and Hollman continue their odd tribute to those masters of the early twentieth century theater of rebellion through her final song, "I See a River" which ultimately brings back to the human soul the simple responsibility of reshaping a world grown distasteful. Confrontational and corporeal at the same time, the show ends on a note of relief, the sort felt through the freedom to pee at will. And to laugh. And laugh we do.
Two minor characters, Hot Blades Harry played by Matthew Daly and Little Becky Two Shoes played by Megan Rozak, almost steal the show with their dynamic performances in Act Two in a song called "Snuff That Girl." Balancing their act, on the flip side of the physical coin, are the stand-out villainy of Scott Ramsey as Senator Fipp and David Howard’s Mr. McQueen. Sky Vogel, who plays Cladwell, is not quite the equal of these four in performance - his singing wasn’t anywhere near, let alone up to, snuff.
Hope Cladwell is played by the lovely Lara Hayhurst in a performance tender and comic, a parody person for sure and yet a pert person as well. She manages to make her love-song moments as real as her fear when she is about to be "snuffed" by her captors. She and Richardson are very moving together in their almost-love duet.
Kyle Fichtman is Officer Lockstock, the man who sets the tone for the entire show and is invincible, surviving no matter what else happens because, as he tells Little Sally - deliciously portrayed by Ashley Blasland - he is also the narrator. His "friend" Officer Barrel has a moment of quiet hilarity as played by Daniel Cohen.
This is an ensemble show, with everyone emerging a star. That’s unusual and also remarkable, and also in the style of Brecht and Weill’s "Threepenny"; no character is denied a moment and Jerielle Morwitz has several as the invincible Penelope Pennywise. Foolish as she is in the virtual present of the piece, she has been equally pound-pressured in her past. She’s practically a modern-day Buttercup.
If you’re confused by all of this, don’t worry. After you’ve seen Urinetown, The Musical you may still be confused. But you’ll be happy to be so. At least you’ll know that this manipulation of the human condition portrayed in this play is outside the realm of possibility of our own Cladwell in Washington where manipulation has a line drawn in front of it that no totalitarian-styled leader has yet been able to cross.
But buy, steal or beg a ticket to the best show in the region this summer. Its day has finally arrived.
◊ 08-25-06 ◊
Hope and Pennywise: Lara Hayhurst and Jerielle Morwitz
Urinetown, The Musical plays at The Theater Barn in New Lebanon, New York through September 3 (which is not long enough). For performance schedules and ticket information call 518-794-8989.
DUE TO POPULAR DEMAND AND GOOD REVIEWS, THE PRODUCTION HAS BEEN EXTENDED BY ONE ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCE AT 7PM ON SEPTEMBER 3.