Urinetown: The Musical
There is an often repeated, unnamed quote that reads, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Well, if comedy is hard, satire and parody must be excruciating. That’s one of dozens of adjectives that could be used to describe ICT Mainstage’s final production of its 2011-2012 season, the incontinent "Urinetown: The Musical."
Surely, Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics) knew they were setting themselves up for possible critical panning by titling their show "Urinetown: The Musical." To say the show stinks is too easy. ICT’s "Urinetown: The Musical" doesn’t stink in the "I just drank two liters of water" way. "Urinetown" reeks in the "hook me up to a dialysis machine" way.
"Urinetown: The Musical" is set in an unnamed city in an undesignated time. Due to extreme water shortages, public flushing has been banned. Citizens must queue up to pay to pee. Anyone who is caught peeing in public is banished to "Urinetown," a place from which no one returns.
The pay to pee stations throughout the city are owned by the Urine Good Company run by the greedy Caldwell B. Cladwell, who is planning to raise the rate to pee to further line his own pockets. Our hero, Bobby Strong, leads a revolution for the people against the UGC, falls in love with Cladwell’s daughter, Hope, leads the people through a rousing gospel number before being escorted to Urinetown, which is UCG’s euphemism for throwing the offender off the top of the corporate building to their death.
To avenge Bobby’s death, Hope throws her father off the building, takes over UGC and rescinds the ban on public peeing, thus setting up a new way of life for the town’s citizens. Soon, the public peeing results in a similar drought as the one that opened the show. As Little Sally, the narrator’s sidekick laments, "This is not a happy musical."
Indeed, "Urinetown" is a dark musical. The pay to pee device is one that is meant to satire governmental oppression and overreach, social irresponsibility, corporate mismanagement, the legal system and more. It would have been equally ludicrous if the basic human right banned in the show were marriage equality or the right for all citizens to receive health care. "Urinetown’s" satirical pot overflows to tweaking Broadway shows: "Les Miserables," "Fiddler on the Roof," "West Side Story" and "Chicago" are especially mocked.
The Broadway production of "Urinetown" eventually became a modest, running for more than two years, despite having the worse title for a musical ever. It was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning three: Best Book, Best Score and Best Direction (John Rando.)
"Urinetown" had the misfortune of a September 13, 2011 opening night. When the show finally opened a week later, post-9/11, and as the Bush administration put laws in place that increased the power of the government over ordinary citizens the theme of loss of basic rights took on a darker, more ominous view.
ITC’s "Urinetown" is a fall drop from a building top higher than the Broadway production. Let’s look at the good first. Relative newcomer Kyle Montgomery makes for a striking, winning Bobby Strong. The company number, "Run Freedom Run" led by Montgomery, is the rousing revolutionary number that is one of "Urinetown’s" signature moments. Performed in a gospel, come-to-Jesus style, it is the highlight of the show. Nearly as good are Janelle Suzanne Lutz (Little Becky Two-Shoes) and Charles Wallace (Hot Blades Harry) as a Sweeney Todd/Mrs. Lovettish pair in "Snuff That Girl."
Keslie Ward nails the role of Little Sally, a commentator to the show’s action and a sidekick to narrator Officer Lockstock. Scott Bardin makes a great villain as Caldwell B. Cladwell.
But this "Urinetown’s" highlights are few and far between. Director Chris Robinson dribbles at the helm, not knowing what to do with this most unconventional musical and its satiric themes. Maybe it would have helped if the audience could have seen the action on the stage. Lightning designer Sam Nance kept half of the show dimly lighted (atmosphere?) while the audience kept half the show squinting.
Officer Lockstock, played by Mike Hathaway, serves as the show’s narrator. Hathaway seems a few semesters short of an acting degree and clearly hasn’t begun working on his singing degree. The very pretty Michelle Foard does her best work as Hope Cladwell in the second act, when she is tied up and gagged throughout most of it. Otherwise, Ms. Foard’s singing sounds like a cringe-inducing, early "American Idol" contestant.
You know a show is in trouble when you start counting how many numbers are left in the first act. Not having seen the Broadway original, I was unsure as to how the show was received there, but regardless, this iteration could not possibly be what the writer intended.