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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Theater: Urinetown or bust

Published: March 31, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

Saturday, March 25, the Shapiro Theater found itself over capacity. People filled all 249 seats, as well as two additional rows in the back of the theater. A line stretched out from the box office to the wall and curled off in two directions. Once the last few tickets went, students who so chose could purchase seats on the floor at the front of the house for a discount price.

The people of Brandeis demanded Urinetown, the Musical with almost as much fervor as the characters in the show pleaded for the privilege to pee. And they did so for good reason. Urinetown is well, a splash hit!

As one of the students who floored it, I was actually close enough to the stage to be in a few of the show stopping numbers. Being this close just made me that much more impressed. Although Ive never acted, I can imagine that having people staring up at you from the floor might be a little distracting, but the actors and actresses were true pros in this and many other respects. Even with the few line flubs, they carried themselves off gracefully and, in some cases, with added laughter. Lauren Becker 08 especially carried off a stumble on the stairs and a tripped line stupendously, making it just another joke.

And in a musical that takes place in a world where a twenty year drought has ravished the resources and where people must pay to pee, the jokes areunlike the waterabundantly overflowing. The show suffers from some serious identity and self-esteem issues, mocking itself and the genre that its a part of like theres not tomorrowand its fabulous.

Urinetown begins with the breaking of the fourth wall as the narrator addresses the audience with the surprising announcement that this musical does not take place in Urinetown, which wont even be seen until Act II. So what is the mysterious Urinetown thats got everyone talking? Nothing less than the destination of those who break the public urination laws when they are caught, as they always and inevitably are. The rigorous police force of two men, Officers Lockstock and Barrel, apparently do a pretty good job of patrolling the town. The fact that there are only two of them is also mocked in the show when the seven patrons of Public Amenity #9 protest that they cant fight off the enemy because they have two men! And we're so poor!

Along with the mockery, there are shout-outs to other musicals, as with the finger snapping dance styles of the Sharks and the Jets from West Side Story, and many other references which I know I didnt get, coming from a culturally stunted section of the country and a high school that didnt believe in musicals. Luckily, Urinetown works just fine without extensive musical knowledge.

The strongest parts of the show were the exchanges between Officer Lockstock, who was played to a T by the lovely and talented Josh Mervis 08, and Little Sally, played by Sierra Kagan 09, who gave an impressive debut on the Brandeis stage.

Throughout the show, Lockstock and Little Sally discuss the subject matter of the show, such as why it has to be about people needing to pay to pee when there are so many other issues involved with a drought. In one of many hilarious moments, Little Sally asks what Urinetown is and Lockstock explains as well as any expert in his field that it has to wait until Act II for the dramatic tension. He cant just say, THERE IS NO URINETOWN, WE JUST KILL PEOPLE!

And so the secret is given away, although the audience is still not sure if its true or just funny. Because when youre dealing with Urinetown, you just dont know what youre getting. Nothing is exactly what you expect, yet everything is what it should bepartly because Officer Lockstock and Little Salleys exchanges tell you what is going to happen.

The cast does a remarkable job with the material. Kara Manson '08 plays Hope Caldwell, the ditzy, pretty graduate from the most expensive university in the world (cough Brandeis!), beautifully and Justin Becker's 09 strong voice and performance make him a formidable Bobby Strong. While I like that the play kills its hero Bobby (in addition to everyone else), I was sad to see Becker go. Luckily he returns to give his last words (more like a novel) and, of course, for the final number.

The choreography by Shayna Skelley '06 was particular notable. During the “Cop Song,” I particularly liked the use of violent punching and arm movements, plus billy clubs in the case of Officers Lockstock and Barrel. Everything came together and came off looking tight. The pit orchestra as well did a fine job with the music, notably Paul Weinger 06, who handled solos on the clarinet and soprano sax with ease.
So what is the take-home message of this unconventional musical? A good old fashioned musical message: Follow your heart. Only everything ends tragically.

The revolutionaries defeat the tyrant who made them pay to pee, but the drought kills them all. Nevertheless, the show still ends with a full ensemble grandalmost epicfinale. And thats a message that I can get behind.

Take the fact that a silly pun in the show is repeated throughout the show as an in-joke with the audience. Tiny Tina (Alex Main 08) remarks, when Old Man Strong (Zach Handler 09) is a little short on cash to pay for the public amenity, You dont look any shorter than yesterday.. unless Ive grown! The audience didnt laugh as much the first time as they did the second time and when the ridiculous and almost meaningless line is repeated a third time, it just mocks the idea that the most important ideas are the most repeated ones in a play. Take The greatest thing youll ever learn is just to love and be loved from Moulin Rouge, and compare. Not quite the take-home message of the show.

But seriously, this show was funny. The heightened sense that I any moment I may need to run from the theater and pee just added another element of fun and weirdness to the show.

In many ways, the show just wants to make you wet yourself with laughter. All of the actors performed well, but some were superb. Apparently, Urinetown was the place to be.