The River Stage production of the irreverent futuristic musical Urinetown has barely closed, and already there’s another version at UC Davis. Same songs and story, but with a different director, cast and band—and somewhat different results.
River Stage director Frank Condon is keen on social and political issues; his Urinetown was darkly entertaining, seditious (with a smirk) and, at the bottom line, story-driven. Male protagonist Bobby Strong had a revolutionary, rabble-rousing fervor. And when the corrupt monopolist Caldwell Cladwell sang “Step on the poor,” the humor had an icy chill—because you knew he’d do it.
Mindy Cooper, director of the UC Davis version, has a background as a Broadway dancer and choreographer. Her Urinetown is smart, but more about fun and frolic. Cooper takes particular joy in lampooning the lamer plot conventions of the American musical (especially the requisite love story). And her show’s decked out with eye-catching, effervescent choreography, spoofing iconic scenes in The Wizard of Oz, Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story. (Condon played those angles, too, but they were further down on his agenda). In Cooper’s show, Bobby Strong is a fair-and-square Boy Scout type, and Cladwell generates a broader comic effect. The show’s message about looming environmental disaster is still potent, but Cooper doesn’t present it with quite the urgency that Condon did.
The UCD standouts are Emma Goldin as good-hearted Hope Cladwell (dressed almost entirely in red), perky, pigtailed Allison Minick as Little Sally (wondering about love), and Travis Dukelow as cool, seen-it-all Officer Lockstock (in a black uniform with a Nazi vibe—credit costumer Maggie Morgan). However, this university cast of 20-somethings lacks the age spectrum of Condon’s show (which included performers in their 40s and 50s, making the parent-child relationships more credible and bringing in more mature, experienced singers).
Cooper does take full advantage of the spacious, well-equipped proscenium stage and the complex two-story set (by Robert Broadfoot). Surprises drop down from above, pop up from below and skitter across the boards. The pit band (led by Pete Nowlen) plays smoothly, but lacks the gonzo wood blocks and bells that energized the River Stage show.