THE BASICS: This ebullient political satire by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann has been a cult favorite since its (difficult) gestation in 2001. The show, a near-perfect fit for the Subversive Theatre Collective, kicks off their 14th season, playing weekends at the Manny Fried Playhouse through October 15th. Jeffrey Coyle (who also plays Officer Lockstock) directs a cast of 15. The show, with its single intermission, runs approximately 2 ¼ hours.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The action takes place in a fantasy town, at some vague, presumably future time. Our world has wilted in the face of ecologic disaster. There is permanent drought (summer of ’16, anybody?). The industrial fat cats have usurped all the public amenities, and, with the help of colluding police and politicians, are parsing out their use to the dirt-poor proliteriat. Troublemakers keep getting shipped off to the mysterious Urinetown. Can revolution be far behind?
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: Both the show and the production are energetic, jaunty. Director Coyle plays up URINETOWN’s obvious cartoonishness. There are the occasional strident stretches, but on the whole the approach works very well. Except for Ryan Kaminski, who is too laid back as our hero Bobby Strong, the principals are all appropriately outsized. Erin Coyle is just adorable and very funny as Bobby’s opposite number, Hope Cladwell, the sunny, naive offspring of grasping industrialist Caldwell B. Cladwell. Michael Starzynski plays the latter with Machiavellian panache. Bethany Burrows as the peppy street urchin Li’l Sally, and Jen Stafford as Ms. Pennywise, the smoldering, tough-as-nails outhouse commandante (with an interesting back story!) are additional standouts in this large and talented cast. Director Coyle, pulling double duty, acquits himself admirably as the snarly policeman/narrator, Officer Lockstock. He even dazzles us with some vocal calisthentics in one featured number!
The music by Hollmann is a toe-tapping mélange. Some of the numbers parody other shows, like The Threepenny Opera and West Side Story. One message song, “Don’t Be the Bunny”, is clever and original. But the “big” ballad, “Follow Your Heart”, is a fizzle, and there is nothing close to a good melody the whole night. The small ensemble sounds good, as do the various singers. There’s a very pretty bit of company a cappella somewhere in the middle of the show. But the lyrics are unequivocally muddy in the acoustically-challenged Manny Fried black box. Expect to miss a number of the words.
A gripe with the play: After setting up a corny but lovable Oppressed Workers vs. MIC (military-industrial complex) Villains dynamic, bookwriter Kotis does a quick U-turn at the end, skewering the “good guys” and leaving us with no-one and nothing to root for. Some may think this clever, or even wise, but it left me with a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. One that has lasted, not dimmed, with further reflection. Caveat emptor!
IN SUM: An off-beat and thought-provoking but flawed show that is mostly a lot of fun, URINETOWN is worthy of your consideration at this highly competitive Curtain Up time!
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!