'Urinetown' is #1
The theatre scene in Kansas City has begun to center around the middle of the city. Most of our theatre companies are working within a few miles of each other from the Crossroads to Crown Center/Union Station to the campus of UMKC. But a new company is bringing some theatrical entertainment a little further north. With their small theatre in the River Market She and Her Productions joins a long history of entertainment in the area.
In the 70s this area was known as the River Quay. From Wikipedia: "One of the most tragic times during this period occurred when a gangland war broke out among members of the Kansas City mafia over control of the newly created (and thriving) River Quay entertainment district (and also control over mob skimming at the Stardust Resort & Casino in Las Vegas). In the process several mobsters were killed and three buildings were blown up in the River Quay which effectively ended its function as Kansas City's entertainment center. The battle was to end the era of mob control of the Vegas casinos." The Quay was an urban renewal plan to make a family friendly shopping and entertainment district centered heavily on Kansas City's jazz history. It was hoped it would replace the 12th street district which had devolved into a seedy area riddled with crime, drugs and prostitution.
These days the River Market is a little quieter and the excitement more likely to come from a deal on fresh veggies at the farmer's market or She and Her Production's of "Urinetown". The show is set in your town after a twenty-year drought. The lack of rain has caused a terrible water shortage, making private toilets unthinkable. Restroom activities must now be done in public toilets controlled by a mega corporation called "Urine Good Company" (or UGC). To control water use at these public facilities people have to wait in long lines and pay to "take care of business". Harsh laws and stringent policing ensure that people pay to pee. The worst offenders are sent to the mysterious and sinister "Urinetown", a prison from which no one returns.
Cheery, right? And this is a musical?
<Side note: She and Her Productions presents at the River's Edge Theatre. This old storefront has been pressed into service as a small performing venue. It appears to have one working toilet. That means audiences must wait in line for the simple right of taking a pee. As I saw the line run from the toilet backstage out to the right side of the house I began to wonder if it was a coincidence or a device used to put the audience in the same position as the characters on stage. Okay, maybe I have listened to too many conspiracy theories, but, in a way I could really respect this kind of purposeful scheme.>
I was completely unfamiliar with the show and quite honestly in the first few minutes was planning escape routes. But it quickly became apparent that the overly large style of performing and the presentation style that bounced between opera, gospel and Broadway along with vaudeville and bad community theatre was all part of the fun and humor. The melodrama that unfolded had moments reminiscent of the best and worst of Broadway and spent plenty of time poking fun at itself. This broad canvas gave the cast and director the opportunity to paint with big strokes (I'm talking paint roller big) and use every old schlocky musical joke and bit to great ends.
In closing let me say the ensemble was very good as was the offstage (and unseen) band who mostly didn't outplay the non-miked singers on stage. Extra kudos to the chorus who is known as "the Poor" in the show, they found interesting and funny things to do without stealing focus, and that's not easy.
For more information about the creative minds behind She & Her Productions see the September issue of "KC Stage Magazine".
For more information on "Urinetown", which runs thru October 22, check out www.sheandherproductions.com/