Sunday, June 18, 2023

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 406, A Review: "Urinetown: The Musical" (Brookfield Theatre for the Arts)

 By James V. Ruocco

In the three-time Tony award winning musical "Urinetown," Greg Kotis, who penned the production's catchy book and lyrics, concocts a plotline that Little Sally, played here by the phenomenally talented Kate Patton, deems positively awful during the show's satirically fueled opening minutes of this exhilarating Brookfield Theatre for the Arts revival.

"Bad subject matter or even a bad title (i.e., "Urinetown: The Musical") could kill a show pretty good," she tells Officer Lockstock. "Or a premise so absurd."
Is she right?
Yes! No! Maybe!
For plot purposes, her 
questions, of course, are left immediately unanswered, thus, kicking the show into orbit along with the fact that everyone - both onstage and off - is in on the joke.
And therein, lies the fun.
Urination and all.

As devised by Kotis, "Urinetown: The Musical" is set in a mythical place where a twenty-year drought has outlawed private toilets in the homes of its citizens and produced a very strict public health act that forbids public urination in alleyways, behind trees, in bushes or wherever the urge strike's one's fancy.
To earn "the privilege to pee," the population must use the town's only public amenities which are owned and operated by a money-hungry private company that charges huge fees for citizens to do you know what.
Worse yet, if they break the law, they're sent to Urinetown and eventually killed by the police.
Enough said.

Given its wacky premise, its off-the-wall conceit and its crazed, confused and bewildered populace, "Urinetown: The Musical" is a complete triumph in terms of writing and staging, offset by intricate, pungent music and extraordinary characters that complement and cement the mayhem that ensues.
In Brookfield, the two-act musical is yet another home run for the immersive, intimate venue coming quickly on the heels of "Spring Awakening," a passionate, heartbreaking, unforgettable tale of teen angst, self-expression and coming of age, set in late 19th century Germany.

A tale of greed, lust, corruption, tyranny and revolution, this hypnotic revival of the 2001 Broadway musical is laced with a satirical bounce and flourish that is rousing, eclectic, invigorating and inspirational.
Part Brechtian, part Weill and part dystopian, "Urinetown: The Musical" tilts and spins with just the right amount of self-conscious absurdity, cheeky pastiche and splendidly induced mockery.

Staging this wildly wicked and witty parody of corporate greed and the obvious exploitation of one's daily urinary habits and functions, director David Anctil seizes the all-in-fun moment of the piece and its hilarious sendup of musical theatre with flair, giddyap and juicy amplification. He also comes to "Urinetown: The Musical" with an appreciation for satire, big swing jokiness, actor-audience push and pull, situational humor and absurdist melodrama.
Moreover, he's directorially committed to the story at hand, its evolution, its shifts in tone, its surprise twists of fate and its well-commissioned weirdness. Scene by scene, he gets the job done with real imagination and purpose, filling the Brookfield Theatre for the Arts space with intoxicating imagery, blocking maneuvers and ensemble tableaus that heighten the impact of the story, its inherited sweep and menace and its running joke of breaking down the fourth wall to connect, tease and beguile the audience.

Musically, "Urinetown: The Musical" rides merrily along with an inventive, magical and playful musical score created by Mark Hollman (musical and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (lyrics). The song tracks (melodious, acerbic, character driven) are strategically placed and positioned, thus, giving the musical its intended edge, spirit and substance.
They are: "Too Much Exposition," "Urinetown," "It's a Privilege to Pee," "It's a Privilege to Pee (reprise)," "Mr. Caldwell," "Cop Song," "Follow Your Heart," "Look to the Sky," "Don't Be the Bunny," "Act One Finale," "What is Urinetown?" "Snuff That Girl," "Run, Freedom, Run!" "Follow Your Heart (reprise)," "Why Did I Listen to that Man?" "Tell Her I Love Her," "We're Not Sorry," "I'm Not Sorry (reprise)" and "I See a River."

Here, the palpable grit, harmony and eclecticism of the score is brought to life by musical director Sarah Fox (piano, conductor) and the orchestral team of Benjamin Olsen (trombone), John Hoddinott (bass), Patrick Pierce (reeds) and Chris Babcock (percussion). It's a winning combination of talent fueled by an appellation of lyricism and identity that complements that massiveness of the score, its generated levels of musicality and its remarkable fluency, demonstration and commitment to the story at hand. 
Everyone on stage - lead, supporting player, ensemble - intuitively connects to the musical numbers they are asked to sing, bringing a strong sense of urgency, style, tone to the piece, never once breaking out of character, missing a note, falling flat or wrapping their vocal chops around the dynamic phrasings, movements and rhythms envisioned by the show's creators.

They don't come any better than Josephine Harding and here, as in the recent Brookfield Theatre staging of "Spring Awakening," her gift for choreography gives "Urinetown: The Musical" its creative spin, its atmospheric aura and its magical tingle. 
Surrounded by a gifted company of performers, Harding's crisp, tight, informational choreography captures the angst, illusion and intensity of the telling, its nod to both parody and dystopia, its amped up exhilaration, its desperation and its salute to musical theatre abandonment. Elsewhere, her fresh feel for the show's musical staging comes across with the complexity and originality of someone skilled in Broadway bravado, its live performance execution and its framed visual flair. 

As Little Sally, Kate Patton's broad, neo-Brechtian take on her characterization, line delivery, vocals and interaction heightens the absurdity of the piece, its air of menace and its parody is such showstopping ways, her invigorating performance becomes the focal point of "Urinetown: The Musical."
She has fun. We have fun. She excites. She delights.
That said, her reactions are vaudevillian ready and worthy. She knows how to play a scene to its fullest. She completely understands Hollman and Kotis' original tongue-and-cheek concept and has great fun questioning the logistics and practicality of the material from the show's "awful title" to its preoccupation with paid public space pissoirs for urination.
Javen Levesque's commanding and dashing portrayal of Bobby Strong, the young, rebellious everyman who assists Miss Pennywise (the dynamic Missy Hanlon who turns her big musical number "It's a Privilege to Pee" into an ovation-worthy showstopper) in the great outdoors amidst the city's filthiest and poorest public urinals, brings consummate charm, humor and opportunity to his romantic leading man role, coupled with a smooth voice and song style as good as Hunter Foster who originated the role on Broadway back in 2001.
Other first-rate performances are delivered by Bennett Cognato (Officer Lockstock), Patrick Spaulding (Caldwell B. Caldwell), Jocelyn Titus (Hope Caldwell), Beth Bonnabeau (Josephine "Ma" Strong), Gary Blu (Joseph "Old Man" Strong), Billy Dempster (Officer Barrel), Laura Majidian (Little Becky Two Shoes), Ainsley Novin (Rebel) and Ethan Valencia (Mr. McQueen).

"Urinetown: The Musical is being staged at Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, 184 Whisconier Road, Brookfield, CT), now through June 24, 2023.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 775-0023.

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