Urinetown: The Musical Opens at the Hopkins Center
Urinetown is a fun-filled unhappy musical. But you can't say you weren't warned. Officer Lockstock (Zachary Gottschall), who breaks the fourth wall of the theater as the play's narrator, delivers the news, with good cheer and a touch of snark, before the very first scene.
The play begins on a set, with dim lighting and raggedy costumes, that makes you think you are about to watch that wrenching opening scene of Les Mis. ("Look down . . . ") It's pure dystopia, in which private toilets have been outlawed. The have-nots, including the ordinary, the elderly, and (ingeniously) a pregnant citizen, are forced to line up to pay for the "privilege to pee" in a dismal restroom owned by a private company. The haves in the suits at Urine Good Company are raking it in and dreaming of vacations in Rio, using their henchmen to enforce the legislation that their bribes have paid for. Those who don't toe the line regarding their bodily functions are "disappeared" to Urinetown. No one knows where or quite what that is; no one wants to find out. Are we having fun yet?
We are. Urinetown takes a cue from the old-fashioned melodrama, complete with the dastardly villain and his minions, the star-crossed lovers, a damsel in distress, secret identities revealed, and a hero leading the townsfolk toward a better life. The characters portray these well-known roles in true fashion but with tongue in cheek and a knowing wink to the audience. There are plenty of laughs in this professional-quality production. If you miss any bits of irony, Little Sally (JoJo Boyle) is on hand with Lockstock to clue you in.
A view of the orchestra pit, the talented people who bring the music
The musical numbers are tours de force, with energetic and precise choreography. Individual voices of Caldwell Cladwell (Ryan Spector), Hope Cladwell (Liza Couser), Penelope Pennywise (Naomi Lazar), and especially of our hero Bobby Strong (Robert Scott Cueva) are forceful and beautiful, whether in solo or in harmony with those of other characters. The company numbers are superbly done, especially two in the second act--the mean-spirited Snuff That Girl, and Run, Freedom, Run, sunny and reminiscent of a Southern revival meeting.
Director Jamie Horton chose Tony award-winning Urinetown as a play for our time, with its themes of environmental degradation, corporate greed, the corrupting influence of power. As our hero Bobby says about social change, "the time is always now." Therein lies the unhappy part. The engaging characters, the rapid pace, the humorous dialogue and the snappy musical numbers are lulling you toward an ending that stops you cold. Is there hope, will justice ever prevail beyond a moment or two, are we doomed? Doubtful, probably not, too early to be completely sure. Get a ticket to Urinetown, and see what you think. Argue in favor of the forces for good. You'll have plenty to talk about over a post-theater drink.
Some stats about the cast, crew, and production of Urinetown
Dartmouth College Theater Department's production of Urinetown runs through next weekend, February 23 through 27. Check the website of the Hopkins Center for more information. A panel discussion, Our Dystopian Moment: 2017 and the Politics of Urinetown will take place on Tuesday, February 21 at 4:30 p.m at the Top of the Hop. It is free to the public, will include an excerpt from the musical, and will be followed by a reception on the Urinetown set.
Want to know more? Click here to read Words on Play: Urinetown, The Musical for a collection of essays and interviews about the play and its original production.
Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge