By Tristan Lejeune
These days, it isn’t enough for musicals to tackle off-the-beaten-path subject matter and dark tone. More and more, they feel the need to be self-aware of themselves as musicals, too.
Urinetown, which is 9 years older than Book of Mormon and 14 years older than Hamilton, has death, betrayal and ecological destruction on its menu. It also has characters who point out what a ridiculous title Urinetown is. If we survive, we’re told, we’ll do a “happy musical” next time.
That might actually be less than likely for the Constellation Theatre Company, which is performing Urinetown under Allison Arkell Stockman’s direction at the Source Theatre until October 9. These guys live off the beaten path. Perhaps for 2017: Bat Boy: The Musical?
In a grim, chain-link fence future, the water table has dropped precipitously low. Private toilets have been outlawed, and, thanks to greedy corporate overlords and crooked politicians, fees at the public “amenities” keep going up. For “the privilege to pee,” the poor have to scrimp and save. The penalty for piddling or pooping in public is death.
And in this strained, crossed-leg society meet a doomed couple whose love might just have enough mojo to plant the seeds of a revolution. Bobby Strong (Vaughn Ryan Midder) is an assistant custodian at a beleaguered pissoir, a daily witness to the injustice of ass warfare. Hope Cladwell (Katie Keyser) is the daughter and heiress of the evil businessman behind it all, fresh back in town with her college degree.
It’s a pretty common story, really. They meet cute. She tells him to listen to his heart. He seizes her as a human shield/hostage for the rebellion. It would make a great “missed connection” classified ad.
Ryan Midder and Keyser are great, and they smooth over some of the gaps in Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’s musical. The show is more interested in exploring theme than it is in rich plot or believable character, which is OK (I guess…) but I do wish it came with better melodies. You’re not likely to walk out humming “Don’t Be the Bunny” or “Snuff That Girl” after curtain call.
But the two leads have strong voices, natural charisma, facial expressions that reach the back row and adorable costumes (Robert Croghan’s work is delicious and droll). They’re all you could want.
Also beyond reproach is Nicklas Aliff as Hope’s father, Caldwell B. Cladwell. Our villain literally twirls his mustache, and he is indeed clad very well in Tom Wolfe-y white suits with leopard print accents (told you Croghan was having a good time). The role would be overacted if Aliff even breathed wrong, but he doesn’t.
Funniest of all is Jenna Berk’s Little Sally, a whip-smart but dirt-poor young girl who sees everything for what it is, and I do mean everything. When the revolution doesn’t go quite as planned and new leadership turns out to be shortsighted and weak, it is she who loudly balks “What kind of musical is this?!” as drought and disease spread across the land.
Well, Little Sally, it’s the kind of musical worth seeing. Even if it does know it.