Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Theatre in the Park "Urinetown" review by kellyluck

It's not that kind of a show.
Rating: 5

The Theatre in the Park

I remember the first time I ever heard of "Urinetown": It was several years ago. I was visiting a friend in New York City when a cab drove by with a sign on the top with the show's name splashed (you should pardon the expression) across it. I remember chuckling to myself, and thinking, "Only in New York." I also remember thinking it would probably sink like a stone in no time.

How times have changed.

Eleven years later, the show not only has seen multiple companies and tours, but is also being produced locally. To catch it here in the Midwest--and at a theatre-in-the-park production, no less!--is the last thing I would have expected. Nearly as unexpected as the show itself, which is a wickedly clever satire of politics, greed, revolution and musical theatre.

Behold the future: a 20-year water draught has reduced things to the point where private toilets are unthinkable, and all public toilets are operated by the Urine Good Company, run by Caldwell B Cladwell (Eric L Magnus). Bobby Strong (Eric Geil), a janitor at Public Convenience #9, watches as his father (Chip Buckner), unable to pay the increasingly draconian fee for use of the facilities, resorts to going against the wall. He is promptly hauled away to "Urinetown," the mysterious fate of everyone who breaks the excretory rules of this brave new world. Incensed, he resolves to change the way things are. With Cladwell's daughter Hope (Alyssa Cooper), he starts a rebellion to bring the tyrant to his knees.

One of the great things about this musical--besides the unapologetically and hilariously cynical storyline and the extremely catchy tunes--is the fact that it knows darned well it is a piece of musical theatre, and has no compunction in playing with the fact. Indeed, narrator/bad guy Officer LockStock (Kipp Simmons) and unwashed waif Little Sally (Jennifer Cannady Thezan) often stop between or even in the middle of scenes to discuss the action so far, speculate on what's coming up next or even nitpick the show's premise, title, et cetera. This sort of thing can be quite funny if well done, but is easily victim to being taken too far. Fortunately, they manage to keep it below that threshold.

Overall, this is a very strong production. The principles and chorus are in good voice, and I noted none of the usual audio glitches that seem to plague outdoor theatre. The orchestra, though small, was very capable, and lighting and sound, etc where right what was needed when it was needed. This really comes in around the top end of what can be done in a community troupe, and they are all to be applauded.

"Urinetown" is an extremely clever bit of theatre, and I'm glad I was able to catch it while it was here. On an amusing side note: as one entered the venue last night, one was greeted by a giant inflatable toilet, provided by one of the principal sponsors. As the opening announcer thanked the sponsor, he mused about setting it up as a ducking stool to get us through the hot weather. "But what would we fill it with?"

Only in Kansas City.

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