Saturday, September 17, 2005

Urinetown (Beck Center)

Beck’s ‘Urinetown’--bad name for a musical, but great production

Every once in a while a musical opens and you wonder about the wisdom of the producers and the writers in selecting the name for the show. A prime example is Beck Center’s show, URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL.” Even the script makes fun of the moniker it was dubbed with. Don’t let the title turn you off, the show is not only fun and meaningful, but the Beck production is extra special.

The idea for the play came to author Greg Kotis when he visited Luxembourg 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, Kotis and Hollmann happened upon three of Cleveland’s own, who at that point in their careers were fledgling New York want-to-be legends. Westsiders 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.” They have gone on to produce the likes of ‘WICKED.’

‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL’ won the 2002 Tony Awards for Best Direction, Best Book, and Best Music and Lyrics.

Don’t think of the show as a light bit of escapism. It is fun, in fact, a total delight, but it also has a serious underbelly. This is a tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a city where water is worth its weight in gold. Messages pervade, 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 citizens have their 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 the clean air act. The fantasy of the situation described in ‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL’ has become near reality.

Beck’s’ production is outstanding! I enjoyed this creation even more than the New York or recent Cleveland Playhouse Square offering. Scott Spence pulls out all the stops to completely capture the necessary farce without losing the meaning and controls the tendency to go overboard with shticks.

Martin Cespedes insured himself of another Times Theatre Tribute with his amazing choreography. Larry Goodpaster gets a nod of approval for this musical direction even though some of the music under the spoken scenes was too loud and drowned out the actors. Don McBride’s scene design, which paralleled the Broadway sets, was excellent. Ali Hernan Garrigan did her usual “run to the thrift store” to find the right grubby clothing.

The cast is excellent...not a weak link in the chain. Matthew Wright is delightful as Officer Lockstock, the narrator. He builds a wonderful rapport with the audience and can do a double take with the best of them. His voice has an ironic sound that brings many a reaction from the audience. Betsy Kahl (Little Sally) is wonderful as his foil. Whether singing or whining her lines, she is delightful.

Colin Cook is physically appealing and portrays the perfect innocence of good-boy Bobby Strong. He has a well modulated voice and interacts effectively with Maggie Stahl (Hope) the daughter of the tyrant who controls the local urinals and is Bobby’s love interest. . Stahl’s’ rendition of “I See a River” is a show highlight.

Greg Violand, who normally plays the handsome mature love interest in productions, takes a turn at being a bad guy in this show. He does it well with a big dynamic vocal range and strong acting talents. His version of “Don’t Be a Bunny” is hysterical. He was so successful in playing the villain the audience booed him during the curtain call.

The choral sounds are excellent, the dancing wonderful. The orchestra was well tuned.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck Center has undertaken a difficult task in choosing to produce ‘URINETOWN.’ They not only succeed, but are flush with success! This is THE musical to see!