Friday, January 23, 2004

Urinetown the Musical (Playhouse Square Center)

Tony Award winning 'URINETOWN THE MUSICAL' at Palace

When it opened on-Broadway ‘URINETOWN THE MUSICAL’ was billed as a “simple story of two kids who fall in love in a city during a water shortage.” The question most often asked about the production was, “what’s with the title?” That title, plus a wonderful cast, a no-holds barred production, and some wonderful word-of-mouth, propelled the show into becoming Broadway's most unexpected phenomenon, and the winner of the 2002 Tony Awards for Best Direction, Best Book, and Best Music and Lyrics.

This musical-comedy tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a city where water is worth its weight in gold has been hailed by Entertainment Weekly as "fresh, exuberant and even moving-somewhere beyond the sublime and
beyond the ridiculous."

The idea for the show came to author Greg Kotis when he visited Luxenbourg and was confronted with having to use the city's pay-per-use toilets. He, along with his friend Mark Hollmann, developed the show. Theatrical producers took one look at the title and subject matter and wouldn’t take on the project. Luckily, they happened upon three of Cleveland’s own, who were fledgling New York want-to-be stage legends. Matt and Mark Rego and Hank Unger had already produced ‘VAGINA MONOLOGUES’ and were ripe for another hit. They optioned the script, mounted an off-Broadway production, and, against the odds, they became the Big Apple’s new “wunderkinds.”

The First National Tour of ‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL’ is now running at Playhouse Square Center's Palace Theatre. The response to the show was very different here than in New York.

Part of the difference is that times have changed. When the show opened, the world was at relative peace. Seeing only the escapist message was all right. Since then the show’s messages have begun to ring clear. Messages such as what happens when big business is given the right to control our lives. Think of the pharmaceutical and medical companies and their stranglehold over our health. What happens when the citizens have their human rights taken away from them? Think Patriot Act and prisoners being held in jail without being officially charged with a crime? What is it like to be lied to continually in an attempt to push a political and economic agenda? Think of the missiles of mass destruction hoax, resulting in the Iraqi war, and the amount of money being made by the oil and military-industrial complex and influential public officials. Think of the rape of the environment caused by loosening of the clean air act. The fantasy of the situation described in ‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL’ has become near reality.

The second factor for the difference in reaction to the show is a combination of a weaker cast and a the sometimes less-than dynamic presentation. While the Broadway production literally jumped off the stage, the touring show is more subdued. Does this mean there aren’t any laughs? Oh, believe me, there are. Does this mean that the show isn’t fun? Parts are a hoot.

The touring cast includes Tom Hewitt as Officer Lockstock, the show’s narrator. Hewitt has perfect comic timing, a wonderful ironic-sounding voice, and just the right presence for the role. Meghan Strange is wonderful as his foil, Little Sally. Whether roller skating, singing, or whining her lines, she is fine. Charlie Pollock, who played the lead role of Bobby Strong on Broadway, doesn’t quite win us over as a romantic hero, though he sings extremely well. Christine Noll is not affectionate r vulnerable enough as Hope, the daughter of the tyrant who controls the local urinals and Bobby’s love interest. The rest of cast is fine, but not wonderful.

Special production numbers are “What Is Urinetown?,” “Snuff That Girl” and the minstrel show inspired “Run Freedom Run.” “Follow Your Heart” is a lovely ballad.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Having loved the Broadway production of ‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL,’ I wanted to love this production. I didn’t love it, I liked it. Should you go see it? Absolutely, just reserve a little of your expectations.