As the title suggests, “Urinetown” is a musical that depicts a world where urination is a privilege, not a right. The Case Western Reserve University Department of Theater’s rendition of the renowned musical far exceeded my expectations.
The show takes place in the near-future when a massive water shortage causes a corporation, the Urine Good Company (UGC), to restrict toilet usage to those who can pay a premium. As put by Little Sally (Nailah Mathews), “you can’t just go in the bushes either – there’s laws against it.”
Breaking these laws earns public urinators a ticket to the infamous Urinetown, from which nobody has returned. As the musical progresses, the penniless people stage a rebellion against UGC and fight for the right to pee wherever and whenever they like.
“Urinetown” featured an ironically upbeat musical score; many songs included eerie lyrics and harmonic dissonances to reference the social calamity of a fantastical world where nobody can pee for free. The cast’s performance of “Cop Song” in Act I was particularly well-executed. The theater went completely dark, and the only visible elements were the focused beams of flashlights pointed at the audience by the actors onstage. The cast lyrically listed off the names of those who made the mistake of urinating publicly, and were sent on a fateful journey to the dreaded Urinetown as a result.
One minor issue sprung from a lack of balance between the pit musicians and the onstage singers. The large cast of voices combined with the instruments caused a bit of muddiness to come through over the sound system, which prevented listeners from enjoying the harmonies and dynamics of the musical numbers. Nevertheless, moments of a cappella singing highlighted these aforementioned elements very nicely.
The production highlighted the talents of many student actors at CWRU. Bessie Bulman (Hope Cladwell), Jay Lee (Bobby Strong), and Oliver Ruhl (Caldwell B. Cladwell) wielded years of theater experience and held audience members’ captive as they carried out their roles. As seasoned performers, each demonstrated excellent use of their individual strengths to complement their characters. Bulman’s voice had a lovely intonation and a clear, focused sound which was well-suited for her character, whereas Lee’s inflection and stage presence effectively translated into a successful performance as rebel leader Bobby Strong. Finally, Ruhl’s evident charisma contributed significantly to his expression of Mr. Cladwell’s aristocratic personality.
The success of “Urinetown” would not have been possible without supporting roles as well. The engagement and facial expressions of first-year student Will Huffmyer (Billy Boy Bill) never faded, and his contributions as dance captain showcased his knowledge of a diverse array of dance styles. Suffice to say, Huffmyer appears to be an impressive up-and-coming performer for the CWRU Theater Department.
A narrative commentary by Officer Lockstock (Brett DiCello), and Little Sally (Matthews), overlaid the musical. At various points during the performance, Lockstock broke out of the commotion of the scene to have a sidebar conversation with Little Sally. Their commentary added a unique layer to the show as they actively critiqued the musical’s plot and development. DiCello and Matthews fed off of one another’s energy during these back-and-forth dialogues, evoking laughter from the audience as they witnessed the irony unfolding onstage.
Directors: Jerrold Scott, Brad Wyner
Dates: April 13-15, 20-21
Rating: 5 stars