Saturday, September 13, 2008

Urinetown, 2008

Beck’s revival of ‘URINETOWN’….is flushed with success!

‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL’ graced the stage at Beck Center three years ago. The results were packed houses and joyous laughter. Scott Spence, the theatre’s artistic director, decided to revive the show this season, with basically the same cast and production team.

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 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.’

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? What is it like to be lied to continually in an attempt to push a political and economic agenda (Think Bush and Chaney)? Think of the missiles of mass destruction hoax, resulting in the Iraq 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 and the attitude of “drill, drill, drill.” The fantasy of the situation described in ‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL’ has become reality.

Beck’s’ production is delightful! Scott Spence pulls out all the stops to completely capture the necessary farce without losing meaning. He controls the temptation to go overboard with shticks.

Choreographer Martin Cespedes has reconceptualized the dancing. His new approach works well. He is lucky to have Zac Hudak’s dancing feet to anchor the 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, parallels the Broadway sets. Alison 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. Betsy Kahl (Little Sally) is terrific as his foil. Whether singing or whining her lines, she is delightful.

Colin Cook, who has a strong singing voice, bulked up since the last production and has lost some of his boyish charm. He interacts effectively with Maggie Stahl (Hope), his love interest, who is the daughter of the tyrant who controls the local urinals. Stahl’s’ rendition of “I See a River” is a show highlight. “Privilege to Pee,” “What is Urinetown,” “Snuff That Girl,” and “Run, Freedom, Run” are all choreographic gems.

Greg Violand, who normally plays the 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 hilarious.

The choral sounds are excellent, especially in several a capella segments.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck Centers ‘URINETOWN’ is as strong this time as it was the last go around. If you haven’t seen it before, do so now. If you have seen it, go again> It’s as much or more fun the second time. Beck not only succeeds, but should be justly proud of being flushed with success!