Wednesday, February 8, 2012

URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL • Stray Dog Theatre

First of all, get a ticket.  This hilarious show, superbly co-directed by Justin Been and Gary F. Bell, lampoons everything from political corruption, the legal system and bureaucracy, to the musical form itself, while constantly obliterating the fourth wall.  Speaking of the fourth wall, there's this thing called "Brechtian theatre".  It's a term that used to intimidate the hell out of me, but not anymore.  Thanks to a conversation with a buddy of mine, I learned that, in a nutshell, Bertolt Brecht, a poet and playwright who played a huge part in developing what's called "epic theatre", didn't want the audience to get too caught up in the story by constantly reminding us that we were watching a piece of theatre.  He "intended to provoke rational thought rather than to create illusion."  Little did I realize that this works brilliantly in comedic satire.  Hello, Urinetown: The Musical!  
Thanks to a devastating 20 year drought, a town has had to suffer no private toilets in an effort to conserve water.  Public amenities are controlled by the corporation UGC, or "Urine Good Company".  These toilets are scattered throughout the city, and there is a fee to pee.  The big guy kicking the shit… no pun intended… out of the little guy.  Sound familiar?  Sure it does!
(l to r, top) Ryan Cooper, Sabra Sellers, Jeffrey M. Wright, C. E. Fifer,
and Deborah Sharn as Penelope Pennywise.
(l to r, bottom) Anna Skidis, Lindsey Jones, and Berklea Going as Little Sally.
Photo credit: John Lamb
The show begins with our narrator, Officer Lockstock (Keith Thompson), and Little Sally (Berklea Going) letting us in on what's about to happen in their opening number, "Too Much Exposition" (<-- Brecht  :)).  At "Public Amenity #9", the nastiest toilet in the worst part of town, Penelope Pennywise (Deborah Sharn), is in charge with her trusty, good-hearted assistant, Bobby Strong (Antonio Rodriguez).  Bobby's dad, Joseph “Old Man” Strong (Ryan Cooper), in a line of those waiting to empty themselves, can't hold it any longer, so he breaks the law and takes a piss in a non-authorized space.  He's then hauled off to Urinetown, a place shrouded in mystery, where law-breakers of the pee rules are taken, never to be seen again.
(l to r) Deborah Sharn, Keith Thompson, J. T. Ricroft,
Christopher R. Brenner, and Jennifer M. Theby.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Meanwhile, the CEO of Urine Good Company, Caldwell B. Cladwell (Christopher R. Brenner), is considering a toilet fee hike with Senator Fipp (Michael Brightman) whom he has firmly in his pocket.  In the middle of their conversation, we're introduced to Cladwell's beautiful daughter Hope (Jennifer M. Theby), just home from college and beaming with optimism about... well... the world in general.  Hope ends up falling for Bobby once they meet, although this poop-station fee hike drives Bobby to take a stand against Hope's family's mega-corporation.  A rebellion against UGC ensues for the right to "pee for free" and Hope ends up being taken hostage by the rebels.
"Act One Finale"
Photo credit: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre, as usual, makes excellent use of Tower Grove Abbey's space, and the entire cast of this show is first-rate.  It's clear that everyone took their roles and ran with them, and they sounded great together.  A few noteworthy numbers include "Mr. Cladwell", "Cop Song", "Run Freedom Run" and "Snuff That Girl".  It's hard to pick any standouts because it's a strong ensemble, but I'll try.  Deborah Sharn delivers a wonderful performance as the hard-nosed Penelope Pennywise, Keith Thompson is an engaging Officer Lockstock, Antonio Rodriguez is the perfect hero as Bobby Strong, and Berklea Going as Little Sally is absolutely fantastic.  Then there's Jennifer M. Theby as Hope Cladwell.  Love.  She plays her part with so much sincerity in the midst of absurdity that you can't help being completely drawn in by her performance.  She's also got great comic timing and solid vocals.
Also kudos to Justin Barisonek's multi-leveled set, Alexandra Scibetta Quigley's costumes, and Tyler Duenow's lighting, and sound.  The music is pre-recorded, but not over-powering, and it was nice that the actors didn't have mics -- they really didn't need them for the most part.  There was also some sweet choreography by J.T. Ricroft -- who sports a hilariously ridiculous hairpiece as Cladwell's right hand man, Mr. McQueen.
This production shouldn't be missed.  I mean, the two main cops are named Officers "Lockstock" and "Barrel" for cryin' out loud.  How can you not love that?  Go see it.  Seriously.
URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL
Book/lyrics by Greg Kotis 
Music/lyrics by Mark Hollman 
Co-Directed by Justin Been and Gary F. Bell
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through February 25 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Final Saturday, February 18 at 2pm and 8pm
*Added performances will be at 8pm on Friday, February 24, and Saturday, February 25
Cast:
Antonio Rodriguez (Bobby Strong), Jennifer M. Theby (Hope Cladwell), Christopher R. Brenner (Caldwell B. Cladwell), Keith Thompson (Officer Lockstock), Berklea Going (Little Sally), Deborah Sharn (Penelope Pennywise), Josh Douglas (Officer Barrel), Michael Brightman (Senator Fipp), J.T. Ricroft (Mr. McQueen), Ryan Cooper (Joseph “Old Man” Strong/Hot Blades Harry), Lindsey Jones (Josephine “Ma” Strong), Anna Skidis (Little Becky Two-Shoes), Jessica Tilghman (Mrs. Millennium), Jeffrey M. Wright (Tiny Tom/Doctor Billeaux), Sabra Sellers (Soupy Sue) and C.E. Fifer (Billy Boy Bill).
Creative:
Scenic design by Justin Barisonek; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; costume design by Alexandra Scibetta Quigley; vocal direction by Chris Petersen; choreography by J.T. Ricroft; stage manager, Justin Been.

1 comment:

  1. I was lucky enough to see this on Broadway...my brother in law was the life coach of the guy who produced it! We had second row seats and it was HYSTERICAL...loved it! Sounds like it was a good run!

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