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Urinetown The Musical
Urinetown -- from the Fringe, to Off-Broadway to Campus Hit
by Simon Saltzman
(Editor's Note: We've followed Urinetown's ongoing journey since its fringe days-- so here a look at the show in yet another permutations. We've posted it on top of our previous updates and reviews so that you can check out more plot details as well as a song list).
There is never enough time or days in the week to permit this critic to attend and review a non-professional production. A rare opportunity arrived when my wife announced that Urinetown was being presented this week by The Theatre Arts Department and Drew University Dramatic Society. Drew University is only ten minutes from our home and is also where my wife teaches speech in the Theatre Department. Heaven forbid that we have an evening without theater. So we went on opening night April 5.
Without a bit of bias on my part, may I respectfully submit that this production, presented at the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre (located on the campus of Drew University), is a delight. Of course, an audience weighted with Drew students, faculty, friends and local residents would naturally give the biggest laugh of the evening to Buist Bickley. As the mercenary and, of course, sinister corporation mogul Mr. Caldwell B. Cladwell, he admonishes his spoiled daughter Hope (played with demure innocence by Chrissie Harms) "Didn’t I send you to the most expensive university in the world."
That Urinetown is an ideal show for a University production should not be a surprise as Mark Hollmann’s music and lyrics and Greg Kotis’ book (also lyrics) supports the typical theater student’s affection and flair for spoof and satire. Under the polished direction of theater department head Joe Patenaude, this Urinetown proved to be a success on many levels with excellent performances and fine singing voices to insure that the mocking style is captured.
Autumn Joan Tilson was a standout as Penny, as was Kristin Ciccone, as Little Sally. With a fearless bravado, Patrick Goodwin wasted no time winning our affection, or that of Hope, as Bobby Strong. He certainly inspired the chorus of "poor" to frenzied heights in "Look to the Sky" and "Run, Freedom, Run." The aisles of the theater were no place for feet as they were often populated by "the poor"” (dressed in grungy chic by costumer Margaret Moseley. Accolades to choreographer Cheryl Clark, who kept two dozen or so (some doubling) performers moving through some liberating routines.
The impressive physical production featured an evocative set design by Andrew Elliot that allowed brick walls to be moved and configured to suggest various locations and a hydraulic lift was used to great effect, rising from below stage level to a great height to become the building from which offenders are taken and thrown from the roof by the two police officers (Doug Cashell and Michael Reyes). Tragicomical, indeed. There was notable musical support from the five musicians, under the direction of Joe Elefante.
Urinetown may have passed its Broadway glory days, but with productions as fine as this one at Drew University, the show's long life as a camput hit is a sure thing. Typical of campus productions, this one has a here today and gone tomorrow run (specifically here from 4/5/06 to 4/9/06).
September 2003 Update
The ultimate fringe success continues to delight audiences even though, after three years, some of the original cast members have inevitably moved on. One of the major changes comes with the September 9, 2003 Broadway debut of Charles Shaughnessy, who played distinguished Broadway producer Maxwell >Sheffield on TV's The Nanny, stepping into the shoes of toilet magnate Caldwell B. Cladwell originated by John Cullum.
Hunter Foster has moved on to another Broadway show, Little Shop of Horrors and Bobby Strong is now played by Luther Creek, with Amy divger doing the honors as his beloved, Hope Cladwell. Spencer Kayden has returned to the role of Little Sally and Jeff McCarthy continues as Officer Lockwood. Penelope Pennywise's shoes are being ably filled by Carolee Carmello. The production also features David Beach, Rick >Crom, John Deyle, Victor W. Hawks, Ken Jennings, Stacie Morgain Lewis,Daniel Marcus, James Moye, Don Richard, Kristie Dale Sanders, Lawrence E.Street, Kay Walbye, Amanda Watkins and
Kirsten Wyatt. -- Elyse Sommer
Thoughts on Urinetown on Broadway
Not much has changed onstage in the transfer of Urinetown from off-Broadway to Broadway: the cast remains largely intact, as does the creative team behind this 1999 Fringe hit. The world, and New York City in particular, has of course changed mightily. As we wrestle with our losses, reactions and anxieties stemming from the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it's unavoidable that we ponder the place of musical comedies like this one and of theater in general. Indeed, although its Broadway opening was postponed a week, this is the first Broadway show to open after the crisis, and it opens as a number of other shows on the Great White Way are closing prematurely, because audiences have resisted returning to both the theater and even the city.
Urinetown can make no pretense of addressing the pressing concerns of the day. Yes, it deals with a response to a crisis of its own, and yes, it includes the story of people banding together to overcome adversity, but it does so on the silliest of terms. This is comedy -- often of the laugh-out-loud variety -- and it takes pokes at almost everything in its path. Although it can be seen as a long singular joke, it sustains itself throughout, and it's hard to imagine anyone not being infected by its wonderful fun.
Is it wrong to enjoy ourselves as others we know and care about have lost loved ones? As we wonder how we will survive emotionally, financially and otherwise? Some no doubt will say "yes" but it seems to me, and it seemed to most of the large audience in the theater, I am guessing, that this sort of escape is a part of the healing process, a girding-up of our collective loins that is a part of both the healing process and the groundwork for difficult days that lie ahead. So I say go, enjoy yourself for a couple of hours, make a donation to the Red Cross in one of the hats the cast holds at the exits afterward and walk back into Times Square strengthened in resolve.
This production may now be in a Broadway theater, and it certainly boasts Broadway calibre talent onstage and off, but it succeeds in remaining faithful to its Fringe roots -- the "grunginess" to which Elyse Sommer referred when she reviewed its off-Broadway incarnation. The space is of course larger, and has been used to good advantage, but its scale remains fairly intimate.
Set designer Scott Pask has not jettisoned the show's earlier designs in favor of something fancier; most of the simple set elements are rolled around on casters by the actors. To the sound designers great credit, the miking of the performers avoids the lost-in-space quality from which many Broadway shows suffer. (Ditto for the fine band.)
The cast is in terrific form from top to bottom, and John Rando continues to succeed in holding our attention, exploiting every laugh and telling the story. It's beautifully integrated with John Carrafa's musical staging which makes perfect use of the Henry Miller stage.
There is a moment in the song "Run Freedom Run" that qualifies as one of the funniest, and least PC, things I've ever witnessed. Much of the audience was doubled over in laughter. I think we needed that. Note: The credits listed below have been updated for the Broadway production. --Les Gutman
---Our Original Off-Broadway Review---
You're too young to understand it right now, Little Sally, but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.
-- Officer Lockstock
How about bad subject matter? Or a bad title? That could kill a show pretty good.
-- Little Sally
Musicals spoofing musicals of by-gone times are decidedly the flavor of the theatrical season. This genre within the musical genre has given us The Producers, a musicalized adaptation of a cult movie, and a revival of 42nd Street. Off-Broadway, there's a brand-new and delightfully goofy musical about a half civilized bat-eared boy with a taste for blood who temporarily becomes an endearing male version of Eliza Doolittle.
The Urinetown cast (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Now, every bit as batty as Bat Boy, we have another unlikely musical spoof, with a title as intriguing as it is impolite. Unlike 42nd Street which is a glitzy backstage Cinderella saga, Urinetown is a darkly sardonic Brechtian tale and with the show itself the Cinderella. The idea -- an ecological disaster driven revolutionary saga parodying the likes of A Beggar's Opera, The Cradle Will Rock, Les Miz and West Side Story -- was born during a Paris vacation from hell when cash-strapped book writer-lyricist Greg Kotis had to tend to his basic needs in the city's public bathrooms. The musical borne of Kotis's experience met with countless rejections before winning a spot in the 1999 Fringe Festival. That Fringe Festival turned out to be Urinetown's big ball, with several "princes" (e.g., the Araca Group and Dodger Theatricals) coming forth with the financial wherewithal to pull the pumpkin coach to another level.
Throughout the preview period of this unlikely musical concept with the politically incorrect title and canny political spin there's been a buzz of pun-intended raves, the most common being "you gotta go!" Now that the show has opened officially, it does indeed look as if tickets, while a quarter the cost of The Producers, will be equally hard to come by.
While the show may sound like, and is, one long variation of such old bathroom one-liners as "The Yellow Stream by I. P. Daily," Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann have fashioned a fresh and funny parody with songs that beg to be recorded for repeat listening and enjoyment. [It now has been.] The story unfurls with well integrated dialogue, singing and dancing. It begins with one of the main characters, Officer Lockstock (Jeff McCarthy), leading a prisoner down the steps of the catwalk that frames Scott Pask's mood perfect set, not to jail, but to his band.
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
It's a simple enough plot, but complete with villain, hero and romance: A snazzily dressed, greed-is-good true believer slyly named (as is most everyone else) Caldwell B. Cladwell (John Cullum) has used a severe drought to to create a pay-per-pee monopoly that's even more assured of steady customers than a funeral parlor. His starry-eyed daughter Hope (Jennifer Laura Thompson) falls in love with Bobby Strong (Hunter Foster), an assistant to Penelope Pennywise (Nancy Opel), the fee collecting guardian of Amenity #9 and the eventual leader of a pee-for-free rebellion. According to Little Sally (Spencer Kayden), the most endearing ragamuffin philosopher you're likely to meet in many a musical to come, all of this "is a bad subject for a musical and so is its title."
But while Spencer Kayden does everything right in her portrayal of the droll little girl who alternates begging for "penny for a pee" with Shirley Temple/Charlie McCarthy exchanges with the deceptively kindly neighborhood cop, her Sally is wrong. This "bad" idea is outrageously good for lots of laughs. The central joke works. The music and choreography echo their sources with originality and bounce.
The inspired silliness of the little beggar girl is just one of the all-around star quality performances. Jeff McCarthy brings a resonant voice and a devilish mix of friendliness and menace to Officer Lockstock. John Cullum is everything a villain should be. Though his most recent roles have been in dramas he remains a consummate song and dance man. Seasoned clown Nancy Opel is terrific as the meanie with a plot-twisting secret, from her show stopping "Privilege to Pee" to her reprise of "We're Not Sorry" with Cladwell. Hunter Foster lends a big voice and much humor to the leader of the uprising against Cladwell's Urine Good Company (UGC). I could go on singing the praises of their singing -- and dancing and acting -- but you've got the idea.
If there are some slow spots in the first act and if the insider get that! tone occasionally seems just a bit too self-congratulatory, John Rando's bordering-on-brilliant direction keeps these flaws to a minimum. The adjective brilliant , which I tend to use sparingly, also applies to John Carrafa's musical staging, especially the hilarious Les Miz -like tableaus which make the most of the ensemble's skills at mimicry as well as singing and dancing. Carrafa's many other visual references will be fun for musical buffs to identify. While the money behind this show is very much in evidence, it retains its fringe-y grunginess, its main prop being a tiled wall representing the outside of Amenity #9 which swings around for the scenes in the headquarters of the monolith UGC headquarters. Brian MacDevitt's lighting and Jonathan Bixby's costumes add to the physical pleasures of the production.
I should add that the audience gets to pee for free in the rest rooms of the environmentally perfect American Theatre of Actors with its stairwell tiled as if to match amenity #9-- or is it the other way around? But with all the smart money involved with this show, I can't help worrying that the producers may want to take a cue from Caldwell B. Cladwell and implement the dollar surcharge gaining hold at many box offices, and try to install coin booths for the His and Her amenities. On the other hand, since they were smart enough to invest in this carefully constructed silliness, they'll bear in mind that Cladwell's "Don't Be the Bunny" comes to haunt him when his pee-for-pay empire crumbles. He may go out singing "We're Not Sorry" but he knows that this time around he's the bunny.
|URINETOWN THE MUSICAL
Music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann
Book and lyrics by Greg Kotis
Directed by John Rando
Cast: David Beach, Jennifer Cody, Rachel Coloff, Rick Crom,
John Cullum, John Deyle, Hunter Foster,
Victor W. Hawks, Erin Hill, Ken Jennings, Spencer Kayden,
Daniel Marcus, Jeff McCarthy,
Nancy Opel, Peter Reardon, Don Richard, Lawrence Street, Jennifer Laura
Thompson, Kay Walbye.
Set Design: Scott Pask
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Costume Design: Jonathan Bixby and Gregory Gale
Sound Design: Jeff Curtis and Lew Mead
Wig/Hair Design: Darlene Dannenfelser
Orchestrations: Bruce Coughlin
Musical Direction: Ed Strauss
Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax -- Paul Garment;
Tenor Trombone, Euphonium -- Ben Herrington; Drums, Percussion -- Tim McLafferty; Bass -- Dick Sarpola
Musical Staging: John Carrafa
2 hours and 10 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
Henry Miller Theatre, 124 W. 43rd Street (6 Av/Bwy)
Telephone (212) 239-6200
Originally produced at 1999 New York International Fringe Festival, then produced off-Broadway at American Theatre of Actors, 314 W. 54th St. from 4/01/01-5/28/01 and now reopened on Broadway 9/20/01, open run
MON, WED-SAT @8, SAT @2, SUN @3 and 7:30, no performance on 11/22, 11/25 @7:30, 12/24, 12/30 @7:30, 12/31 1/6 @7:30, added performances 11/21 @2, 11/23 @2, 12/25 @8, 12/26 @2, 12/28 @2, 12/31 @8; $35-85
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer Off-Broadway 5/4/01, Les Gutman on Broadway 9/20/01
Cast Recording on RCA available here
- Overture/The Band
- "Urinetown"/Lockstock and Company
- "Privilege to Pee"/Pennywise and The Poor
- "It's a Privilege to Pee" (reprise)/Lockstock and The Poor
- "Mr. Cladwell"/Cladwell and The UGC Staff
- "Cop Song"/Lockstock, Barrel and The Cops
- "Follow Your Heart"/Hope and Bobby
- "Look at the Sky"/Bobby and The Poor
- "Don't Be the Bunny"/Cladwell, Fipp, Mc'Queen, Lockstock, Barrel and Pennywise
- Act One Finale/Full Company
- "What is Urinetown?"/Full Company
- "Snuff that Girl"/Hot Blades Harry, Little Becky Two Shoes and The Poor
- "Run, Freedom, Run!"/Bobby and The Poor
- "Follow Your Heart" (reprise)/Hope
- "Why Did I Listen to that Man?"/Pennywise, Hope, Fipp, Lockstock, Barrel, and Bobby
- "Tell Her I Love Her"/Little Sally, Bobby, and The Poor
- "We're Not Sorry"/Full Company
- "We're Not Sorry" (reprise)/Cladwell and Pennywise
- "I See a River"/Hope, Little Becky Two Shoes, Josephine Strong and Company
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by
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