When asked to pick a favorite musical my mind would not automatically go to Urinetown. Then I see a production of Urinetown and I think “wow, this is a really perfect show”. It has the most misleading title, one that probably suggests to people that it’s a show filled with toilet humor and no real heart. While the show is really hilarious, it is also incredibly clever and has a lot of commentary on the classes of society. Needless to say I was immediately excited to see Point Park’s current production.
Urinetown focuses on a world where water is scarce and there is now a tax to use the bathroom. The rich can afford it and live in luxury, while the poor struggle to raise enough pennies for a morning pee. Our narrators are Officer Lockstock (Luke Halferty) and poor Little Sally (Emma Feinberg), who spend the opening moments of the musical explaining to the audience that it is a musical and that the premise is quite absurd. The real show begins and we see the story unfold as poor amenities worker Bobby Strong (Eddie Layfield) begins a rebellion against the rich Caldwell B. Cladwell (Taylor Warren), while also falling in love with Cladwell’s daughter Hope (Morissa Trunzo).
The script is one of my favorites ever. It moves the central story along while also taking time out to have the narrators address the subject matter and faults of the story. “It’s better to just focus on one big problem in a musical” Lockstock tells Little Sally. “It’s less confusing for the audience…and it’s easier to write.” Jokes like this (and I’m paraphrasing that quote) are constant throughout the script but don’t get obnoxious. There are plenty of other fun bits (and I’ll get to them later), but what’s great about the story is how it seamlessly addresses dark subject material relevant to the real world. At one point Hope says that police protect people, to which Bobby bitterly replies “they’re supposed to”, a line that hangs heavy with the recent events in Ferguson and New York City. As the play approaches the end it becomes clear that, despite the “happy music”, this musical may not reach a happy ending.
While the script takes the time out to have the narrators address the audience, the characters in the play usually stay in their own world. However many songs counteract that, with lots of numbers involving a solo singer in a spotlight singing directly to the audience, sometimes with choreography happening behind them and other times not. While the choreography is great and the singing is great (seriously, can any of these students NOT sing?) I would have liked a bit of meshing of the songs and the story. Having the characters point and explain things to the audience isn’t very necessary, since Officer Lockstock already has that role down pat. Oh, and Mr. Halferty is fantastic as Lockstock. His comedic timing is perfect and he moves the show along both literally and in terms of energy. Ms. Trunzo is also great as the naive ingénue Hope, who grows more resilient (and hilarious) as the show goes on. Mr. Warren channels his best John O’Hurley-in-Seinfeld, with an extra dose of comedic villainous energy. Tara O’Donnell gives a strong voice and witch-themed presence as Penny Pennywise, the gruff owner of Bobby’s amenity who has a secretive past. Mr. Layfield sings the hell out of Bobby Strong, although his presence never quite reaches the same over-the-top comic feel as the other characters.
The ensemble is full of fantastic performers that pepper the show with hilarious lines and moments, all which were incredibly well-received by the audience (although it probably helps that the crowds at the Playhouse are usually full of students ready to cheer and hoot at their friends). Nicholas Robinson nailed a one-liner as dumb guy Tiny Tom, that got applause every time it was repeated. Lucy Moon Fitzsimons does a fantastic bit of physical comedy during the song “Run, Freedom, Run” that literally stops the number so the crowd can roar with delight. I’ll also give a shoutout to Mason Lewis and Ben Northrup, two tall and fantastic dancers who seemingly appear in every number as they play both poor and rich ensemble characters. All the numbers in Act 2 are performed with such a great energy that it’s seems to last only ten minutes, and the whole cast contributes to making it great.
The tech is also top-notch, as Urinetown has got be a show any designer would be excited to do. The set is big and glorious, transition from the shitty streets of the poor to the glittering gold of Caldwell Cladwell’s offices. There is a fancy gate and a giant safe door too, a fun moving playland for these characters to run on. There are also plenty of moments for fun lighting that are wonderfully executed, such as the many quick flashbacks and a few death scenes. There’s also a great line from Bobby remarking on the dim lighting that works really well. So many little things make this show so good.
As I was watching Urinetown I took in the theme of fighting classes, the dark and funny moments, the addressing the audience, and the unexpected ending and realized why I love it so much: it’s like a modern Threepenny Opera, one of my favorite shows. In addition to being an homage to Threepenny in spirit, the show also makes a few more literal references to musicals like Fiddler on the Roof, Les Miserables, and Wicked. Don’t judge it by the “awful title” that Little Sally likes to point out, because it’s a really great piece of theater and Point Park has put on a great production of it. I would highly suggest seeing it…and make sure you use the bathroom before you do.
Presented by Point Park’s Conservatory Theatre Company @ the Pittsburgh Playhouse
Directed by Zeva Barzell
Written by Mark Hollmann (music/lyrics) and Greg Koris (book/lyrics)
Designed by Britton Mauk (scenery), Kelsey Bower (costumes), Cat Wilson (lighting), and Steve Shapiro (sound)
Starring Luke Halferty (Officer Lockstock), Tara O’Donnell (Penelope Pennywise), Eddie Layfield (Bobby Strong), Emma Feinberg (Little Sally), Morissa Trunzo (Hope Cladwell), Taylor Warren (Caldwell B. Cladwell), Aidan Quartana (Senator Fipp), Carter Ellis (Mr. McQueen), Darryl Lee (Officer Barrel), Patrick Steven Bovo (Old Man Strong/Hot Blades Harry), Lucy Moon Fitzsimons (Little Becky Two-Shoes), Nicholas Robinson (Tiny Tom), Mason Lewis (Billy Boy Bull), Ben Northrup (Robby the Stockfish), Paul Hambidge (Dr. Billeaux), Amanda Lee Hawkins (Josephine Strong), Brittany Dorazio (Soupy Sue), Maggie Roos (Mrs. Millenium), Lauren Garriott (the Poor/Cop).
The show runs until December 14th. Tickets can be purchased here. Production photos courtesy of Kristi Jan Hoover.
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Playhouse for two complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: December 10, 2014