Thursday, February 7, 2013

Get "Relief" From the Winter Blues at Urinetown

By Andrew Juhl

Coralville - This is not a happy musical, indeed. Sure, City Circle’s production of Urinetown: The Musical contains its share of laughs and jocularity, but it’s also tinged with piss and vinegar—so, okay, mostly piss.

Urinetown is a 2002 multi-Tony Award winner from Mark Hollmann & Greg Kotis. Occasionally (and ultimately) tarrying into seriousness, the musical is also replete with puns, guffawish humor, and outright silliness. As an extra treat for the musical lovers in the crowd, the songs shift in tone from scene to scenes, providing pastiches to straight-up parodies of other great Broadway shows, such as Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweet Charity, and Big River, among others.

The story centers on the plight of folks in an urban setting experiencing a 20-year drought. As such, all private toilets have been banned in order to conserve water, requiring citizens to pay steep fees to use amenities or be arrested and sent to—gasp!—Urinetown, a mysterious place that people never seem to return from. When fee hikes are orchestrated by greedy corporate-type Caldwell B. Cladwell (Larry Newman), the young idealist Bobby Strong (Ben Alley) leads a rebellion and kidnaps Cladwell’s beautiful daughter, Hope (Raquel Loya). Hilarity ensues, but maybe not so much that you’ll pee your pants. In general, CCACC’s production of Urinetown is a success. Ben Alley brings a goofy, boyish charm to a role more frequently characterized by rugged, athletic charisma, but he makes it work for him, and admirably. Young Raquel Loya has some pipes, and a faux-coquettishness that will serve her well in many roles to come. Be on the lookout for her in future leading lady roles. Over-shining the leads, however, are Larry Newman and Carrie Houtchins-Witt (as ‘Penelope Pennywise’), who bring practiced voice and comedic talent to their roles that the younger cast members simply cannot match at this point. Specific note should be given to Newman’s ‘Caldwell B. Cladwell’; he brings considerable theatrical experience to his performance, and that polish shone throughout the evening. To me, he was the #1 actor to watch up there.

Per Wiger, as the show’s narrator and Officer Lockstock, was superb; and a tip of that hat should go to the people casting the show, as Wiger’s extreme height offset and sold Becca Goldknopf Anderson’s petite frame and believability as ‘Little Becky Two-shoes’. Their tête-à-têtes were uniformly enjoyable, showering the audience with golden enjoyment.

While the music is good, the main complaint of the night (and gee whiz was it a persistent complaint) from other audience members and myself was that it swallowed too much of the lyrics. I couldn’t tell if the performers were consistently undermic’d, the orchestra consistently overloud, or a painful back-and-forth combination, but I was sad to see so many good, hilarious lyrics go unheard by the night’s theatregoers. I’ve been informed that by Sunday’s matinee, these sound issues had been mostly rectified, so the second weekend’s ticketholders should enjoy the show even more.

Luckily, you don’t need to hear choreography, so regardless of any sound issues, you will see some of the most interesting choreography I’ve seen in a community theatre production in the last few years. Fawn Boston-Halter and Chris Okiishi have blocked some intricate, stunning numbers. The dances add to the songs and story; there’s nothing piss-poor about them.

Ultimately, credit has to go to the director for pulling it all together. Jesse Jensen brings us a good show in a great venue for a fair price. I can only assume the performances are becoming increasingly apt with each show, and the sound and dancing increasingly tighter. It’d be a good way to piddle away a few hours this coming weekend. I just may have to go down to Coralville Center for the Performing Arts and see it again. … Micturate.

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