By Dale King
Student actors at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton have clearly taken the satirical comedy Urinetown to heart. Their performance is a laugh-laden riot. Coincidentally, the show doesn’t sink to the level of toilet humor – well, not often — as it could so easily do.
Director Lee Soroko seems to gleefully turn ownership of the stage over to the young performers, most of whom have already spent a season at FAU reinforcing their acting creds – particularly the master of fine arts hopefuls.
With music by Mark Hollmann, lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, and book by Kotis, the show spoofs institutional pencil-necks and parodies musicals and the Broadway musical itself as a form. Officer Lockstock (Ryan Page) is both a cop and narrator, often breaking the fourth wall to explain the action, announce intermission and welcome the audience back.
In his director’s notes, Soroko describes the surprise 2001 hit that copped an impressive 10 Tony Award nominations, winning Best Original Score, Best Book and Best Director, as a vehicle that “lampoons big business, the government, the legal system, populism, social responsibility, politics, capitalism, corruption, nepotism and the fact that our lifestyles are environmentally unsustainable.”
All this, and pay-to-pee toilets, too. The stage setting, a remarkable faux-filthy scenario, features two “amenities” for depositing one’s solid and liquid waste. The common folk in the case – called the “poor” — are similarly wanting of cleanliness.
Apparently gone in this fictional (maybe?) futureworld are private privies. A 20-year drought has forced the government to ban all home toilets because of the water shortage. At Public Amenity No. 9, the poorest and filthiest pee-pot, folks gather outside, stand or sit with legs crossed and faces squinted, waiting for the rigid, authoritarian attendant Penelope Pennywise (Aubrey Elson) to take their money and allow them blessed relief.
Police patrol the area – specifically Officers Lockstock and Barrel (Joel Ceruto), ready and able to arrest anyone who doesn’t fork over cash to benefit bowel or bladder. Offenders are taken away to a penal colony called Urinetown – a place that’s little known, but highly feared.
The public toilet system is controlled by a megacorporation called “Urine Good Company” (or UGC). Cladwell P. Caldwell (Brian Cox), a crooked strong-arm who hangs with ne’er-do-wells and crooked politicians, runs the show with disdain and greed.
All seems to flow fine until Old Man Strong (Caleb James Williams), father of Penelope’s assistant, the dashingly handsome Bobby Strong (Alec Kalled), begs to pee free for lack of cash.
The action runs out at the site of Amenity No. 9, where Officer Lockstock steps in to tell the rest of the story. It’s a weak conclusion to a show that opened so well and maintained its energy through much of the funny dialogue and music.
Hollmann’s tunes are really good, many of them up-tempo, but with a few ballads. The title song, “Urinetown,” shows up early in Act I and unfortunately doesn’t reappear. It does feature the whole company in fine vocal array — the only melody with everyone on stage until the Act I finale called, jokingly, “Act I Finale.”
The vocal, “Run, Freedom, Run,” a truly uplifting number, is undoubtedly the best Act II song, featuring Bobby and the poor. “I See A River,” with Hope, Little Becky (Alexandria Thomas), Josephine Strong (Lauren Folland), Lockstock, Little Sally (Caroline Dopson) and company, is also easy on the ears. The river, by the way, is a river of “Hope.”
Urinetown’s well-wrought cast is masterful and everyone contributes, many taking dual roles. Brian Cox and Aubrey Elson are top-notch as evil Caldwell and toilet-keeper Pennywise. Kalled, a lead in many prior shows, is a sensitive, decisive Bobby who justly brings the house down with “Run Freedom Run.”
The cast offers unanimously strong vocals, particularly by Page, Elson, Cox and Jaeger. Everyone on stage has lots of fun with lively choreography thanks to hoofer Danielle Dale-Hancock’s direction.
Music is provided by a talented quintet: Michael Ursua on piano, Peter Freudenberger on tenor trombone and euphonium; Julie Jacobs on drums and percussion; Dave Wilkinson on bass and Andrea Gilbert on a variety of instruments including clarinets and sax.
The final performance of Urinetown today at FAU is sold out. For more information, see www.fauevents.com or call 561-297-6124.