When the narrator of a musical explains in the middle of Act 1, “Dreams are meant to be crushed. … It’s Nature’s way,” it’s a safe bet that happy endings are not in store. That’s certainly the case with TMCC’s production of Urinetown, directed by Paul Aberasturi, but you might be too busy laughing to notice.
In a city on the outskirts of Urinetown, decades of drought have led to strict—some might say oppressive—measures to control water use. Citizens must pay to use “Public Amenities,” which are controlled by a large corporate entity known as UGC (Urine Good Company). Old Man Strong, lacking the money to use the public restroom, defiantly relieves himself against the Public Amenity wall and is promptly hauled off to Urinetown by Officer Lockstock, one of the town’s two policemen.
Urinetown is a mysterious and sinister place because nobody who goes there is ever seen again. Strong’s son, Bobby, who works for the Public Amenity, leads a riot against the corporate system while unwittingly falling in love with the CEO’s beautiful and naïve daughter, Hope Cladwell. Can their love survive the bitter conflict between the townspeople and the corporation? Will Bobby’s rebellion overthrow the corrupt UGC? Well, of course not. This isn’t a happy musical, remember?
This Tony Award-winning play features plenty of razor-edged humor and clever, self-aware dialogue. Officer Lockstock, as the narrator, helpfully provides exposition, explains how musicals work and disillusions idealistic characters as needed.
The musical numbers, too, are playfully tongue-in-cheek, as in “Mr. Cladwell,” where the fawning, pocket-protector-wearing staff of UGC performs a hilarious choreographed routine with their clipboards. Sly winks to other musicals abound, such as the noisy, percussive “Cop Song,” which gives a nod to Stomp by using flashlights, billy clubs and cans to create rhythm and music.
Urinetown also boasts some remarkable performances. Rod Hearn is outstanding as Officer Lockstock; it’s not an exaggeration to say that his deadpan delivery and brutal cynicism anchor the show. Susan R. Lang is excellent as Little Sally, a wide-eyed and warm-hearted little girl whose sweetness and innocence routinely get torn to shreds by Lockstock. Summer Schopper, who plays Hope Cladwell, uses her voice to great effect, both in her breathy little-girl delivery and her strong vocals.
Due to the layout of the small black-box theater, some distractions can interrupt the audience member’s experience. The Redfield venue has seating on three sides, but the blocking is aimed toward the center seats. Between musical numbers, theater-goers sitting on either side frequently find themselves unable to see the action, as the dancers are often in the way. Also, while Carolyn Wray’s grungy urban costumes are colorful and fun, the actors’ makeup is overdone to the point of garishness—and in a theater this small, it’s unnecessary as well as impossible not to notice.
But there’s so much to like about this production that it seems like nitpicking to note its few flaws.