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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Musical ‘Urinetown’ makes a splash

Published: December 9, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

The wonderful thing about “Urinetown: The Musical” is that it knows not to take itself too seriously. Tympanium Euphorium’s production, directed by Johanna Wickemeyer ’12 with assistant director Lizzy Benway ’14, truly took that to heart; the actor’s comedic deliveries of even the most serious-sounding of lines make the sometimes dark musical ultimately amusing and wildly entertaining, eliciting great laughter from an engaged audience.

“Urinetown” is a rather absurd musical in which a 20-year drought has left people under the thumb of business tyrant Caldwell B. Cladwell (Daniel Liebman ’12), who charges hefty fees in exchange for access to public toilets. Many of the town’s poor cannot afford these fees, but they have little other choice: Those who pee anywhere but in a public toilet or refuse to pay the fee are carted off to Urinetown, a vague and fearful place from which none return.

The musical begins with our young hero, Bobby Strong (Jason Dick ’14), watching his father get carted off to Urinetown for refusing to pay the fee at the toilet where Bobby works as a janitor. Shortly afterward, he meets the beautiful and naive Hope Cladwell (Jackie Theoharis ’14), who encourages him to follow his heart as the two fall in love, planting in Bobby the seeds of a revolution that erupt into the revelation that Urinetown is not just some distant, elusive place of punishment.

Although the musical ends on a grim note, “Urinetown” is a comedy and should be treated as such. The goal of the musical is to spread laughter, and this particular production yields plenty.

The show’s actors incorporated the correct measure of passion and light-heartedess, making “Urinetown” an enjoyable and unique experience. The group that portrayed the impoverished revolutionaries was particularly impressive, their dynamic body language showing them languishing under the iron rule of Mr. Cladwell. As the revolution grows stronger and the revolutionaries come under moral scrutiny, they begin oozing appropriate amounts of sleaze and desperation, which particularly shined through in their performance of “Snuff That Girl.” I also loved the particularly modern touches that this production brought to the revolution, with signs declaring “Occupy Urinetown” featuring quite prominently in their protest.

I was notably impressed by Theoharis’ vocal performance. The role requires both great range and power, both of which were flawlessly delivered. Theoharis brought a beautiful softness to what can sometimes become a screechy and abrasive role. The fearful crooning of Bobby’s name as he carries her away to become a piece in his revolution adds great texture to the character as she struggles to find her place between her righteous lover and her pragmatic father. This truly shined during her reprise of “Follow Your Heart” as she is alone in captivity, showing a soft, scared, naive and sweet girl trying to decide where she stands in a conflict much larger than herself.

Equally impressive was the performance of Aliza Sotsky ’15 as Little Sally, who serves as half-character, half-narrator alongside Officer Lockstock (Justy Kosek ’14). Each time Sotsky took center stage, she commanded the audience’s attention with her comedic delivery and some particularly wonderful facial expressions. Kosek played off of her remarkably well, the two forming a narrative duo that got most of its laughs making fun of the play itself. Similarly enjoyable was Liebman’s performance as Mr. Cladwell in his number “Don’t Be the Bunny,” a song that utilized his deep, strong vocals to great effect as he sung about bunnies being turned into stew.

Dick, meanwhile, brought great passion to the story’s central character, the idealist Bobby Strong. I was particularly struck in the final moments, in which he exclaims: “Why did I listen to my heart?” The delivery of this line, despite the overarching comedy of the show, is ultimately hopeless and heart-wrenching, which, though buried under a thick layer of laughter, cannot be denied as being the heart of the musical. Thus, in this line the actor managed to capture the entire show. Dick’s vocals shone during his performance of “Run Freedom Run,” but seemed strained at points, particularly during “Act One Finale” as he sung over multiple characters and during some particularly long and powerful notes, as is often required by the role.

“Urinetown: The Musical” flawlessly toes the line between self-referential comedy and hopelessness. This particular production shined with depth and texture, unafraid to present both sides of the show without losing the fact that it is, in the end, supposed to be funny. The show was obviously well-rehearsed and the performance flowed without any hitches and with a constant passion. As a huge fan of the musical, Tympanium Euphorium’s production did not disappoint.