Sunday, September 14, 2008

Urinetown the Musical, Beck Center

(Betsy Kahl as Little Sally and Matthew Wright as Officer Lockstock)

No matter how pro-capitalist you are, we surely can agree that there should be no fee to pee or to drop a deuce. But as the forces of privatization try to own everything from our highways and municipal water systems to the schools and your social security account, who can say that outsourcing the management of your excremental functions is too farfetched?

As a public service, then, the Beck Center has decided to revive their 2005 production of Urinetown the Musical. This show is a warning of such a future catastrophe, wrapped in comical trappings so funny you may, ah, wet your pants.

Utilizing virtually the same cast from three years ago, this version of Urinetown displays all of the strengths and a couple of the minor weaknesses of the original production. But nothing detracts from the raging wit provided by Mark Hollman (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics). Pitting the corporate giant Urine Good Company against the rabble in the streets, the authors sketch a drought-parched cityscape where people are compelled to piss only in official UGC “public amenities.” For a price.

Enforcing this extraordinary urinary policy is a corrupt and compliant police force represented by Officer Lockstock and his flunky, Officer Barrel. Happily crumpling the fourth wall, Lockstock addresses the audience, informs us that this is a musical (complete with jazz hands), and laments the exposition that must occur before the story gets rolling.

But once it does, the cast under the direction of Scott Spence delivers one great song after another. In the opener “Urinetown,” the rules for the evening are clearly stated: “You’re at Urinetown/Your ticket should say Urinetown/No refunds, this is Urinetown!/We’ll keep that dough.”

Once again, the actors comprising the pee-denied denizens of this sad metropolis are the funniest element in the show. Sandra Emerick as Little Becky Two-Shoes and Betsy Kahl as Little Sally nail their lines, as when Little Sally points out that the title of the play might not be the best idea ever.

The other fellow sufferers are played by Ryan Bergeron, Eric A. Neumore, Zac Hudak, Kimberly Bush, and Dan Bush, and they do a spectacular job of singing and executing Martin Cespedes crisp and clever choreography.

In the major roles, Matthew Wright is bigger (if that’s possible) and better than ever as pompous Lockstock, and Lenne Jacobs-Snively hasn’t lost her rubber-gloved grip as the pitiless doyenne of the local urinal. Her anthem to the glory of the pay-or-else-toilet offers a bladder-full of insight into the conditions there: “Twenty years we’ve had the drought/And our reservoirs have all dried up/I take my baths now in a coffee cup/I boil what’s left of it for tea/And it’s a privilege to pee.”

The head of UGC, Caldwell B. Cladwell, is again rendered by Greg Violand with more suavity than menace. But his performance of “Don’t Be the Bunny” is still a treat for it’s brazen hostility to the powerless in society: “You’re stepping up/ To where it’s sunny/Step on the poor!/Don’t be the bunny!”

The part of the show that doesn’t quite work is the romance between Bobby Strong, rebel leader of the peons (finally, that word makes sense!), and Hope Cladwell, daughter of UGC’s CEO. Colin James Cook and Maggie Stahl-Floriano do their best to keep this relationship interesting, but it never really sparks. And the overly long second act drags out Hope’s kidnapping, losing some of the comic momentum established earlier.

But this show has plenty of momentum to spare, plus a memorable showstopper, “Run, Freedom, Run.” So it would be a good idea not to miss this encore presentation—and that’s with a capital Pee.

Urinetown the Musical
Through October 12 at the
Beck Center for the Arts,
17801 Detroit Avenue,
Lakewood, 216-521-2540

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