‘Urinetown’ flows with fun and is flush with music
July 14, 2009 · 11:51 AM
Try to see past its unsavory title. “Urinetown” is a hilarious show, one that pokes fun at itself and the concept of musical theater while inhabiting a high place in the musical genre at the same time.
Directed by Stephen Floyd, the satirical take on corporate greed, corruption, fear and love takes viewers on a ride through a city, not too far in the future, where water is so scarce even the toilet system has been privatized. The cast of 25 seem to have fun on stage, bringing to life their unlikely yet sympathetic characters for whom it is “a privilege to pee” while showing off the pipes of champions in many soaring ensemble numbers.
Music played in a minor key demonstrates from the start that “this is not a happy musical,” as one of the characters helpfully tells the audience.
The first song or two were a touch disorganized before the cast really hit their stride and drew the audience deep into their drama. Then, their elaborate harmonies and vocal blending shone through and gave a clue as to the work these actors do to hit every note perfectly.
The highlight of the play is when the leading man, the fresh-faced David Katz, takes a relevant concept — freedom — and breaks into a ridiculous song with nonsensical lyrics. And yet, the song is well written. And when he begins to conduct the rest of the cast, singing as a choir, it’s clear that this show rests squarely in the musical category, but demands we take note of its sometimes overly show-stopping tunes.
While there are many standout characters, it is the play’s self-awareness that steals the show. Little Sally and Officer Lockstock — a man who ensures that the laws against public peeing are enforced — step out of the action several times, moving forward on stage to discuss what’s happening while other characters freeze or slow to a crawl.
Sally (Lizzie Schoen) asks Lockstock (Louis Mangione) repeatedly to explain what’s going on, and he addresses some of the tenets of a good show — for example, not giving away too much at first.
“They’ll hear more about the water shortage in the next scene,” Lockstock reminded Little Sally early in the show.
Both actors vibrantly depict their simple characters, giving them depth and personality beyond their lines. Schoen’s voice is showcased in a solo near the end of the play — a melodramatic bit that she elevates with her impassioned singing and polished voice. (Note that on alternating nights, Little Sally is played by Megan Hackett.)
Mangione, who has played a villain before, has the perfect bass voice, striking appearance and smooth dance moves essential for his part.
Each member of the cast had a moment to shine — from the youngest to the oldest of the people pleading “to pee for free” and even the corporate monsters who’ve enslaved everyone’s bladders.
The two young romantic leads, for instance, kick the play into high gear when they meet each other in the third scene.
Bobby Strong (David Katz) lives up to his name with a strong voice, strong character and a strong moral compass. Katz’ expressive and natural demeanor leave little doubt that he’s found his home — on stage.
Hope (Coriel O’Reilly-Silkett) is an adorably naive ingenue, a real damsel in distress of a character. But when O’Reilly-Silkett begins to sing she truly captivates the audience — her voice carries above other members of the cast and sounds radiant in every octave.
Mr. Caldwell B. Cladwell (Rich Wiley) — Hope’s papa and the owner of the conglomerate that charges the hoi-polloi to tinkle — is engaging and charismatic. And when he has a bit of a breakdown, it’s both convincing and fun to watch, because Cladwell is the paramount villain in the play.
Ms. McQueen (Sue DeNies) is fun, fun, fun. DeNies takes a small part and breathes so much life into it that when she opens her mouth, she’s the star. An assistant to Cladwell, the character is so likable that no one can hold her abhorrent business choices against her.
Penny Pennywise (Shannon Flora) is a bad-gal who turns out to have a heart of gold. Flora doesn’t act, she becomes Penny, inhabiting her character seamlessly.
“Urinetown” wouldn’t be complete without a corrupt politician, and Senator Fipp (Gretchen Neffenger) fits the bill. Neffenger hits all the right notes as this sassy yet conflicted character.
And little touches, such as real greenbacks in the suitcase full of money, and true tumbles from scaffolding, give “Urinetown” the sparkle it needs to be a big hit on Vashon. In a musical full of plot twists, perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that the title song winds up sticking in your head in a most delightful way long after the show is over.
— Amelia Heagerty is a Beachcomber staff reporter.
“Urinetown” continues at 7:30 p.m. July 16 to 19 at Vashon High School. Tickets, $10 and $15, can be purchased at Books by the Way, Vashon Bookshop and brownpapertickets.org. Tickets are also sold at the door.