UNPREDICTABLE "URINETOWN" POKES FUN AT MUSICALS
Bobby Strong (Corey Lappier) tells Hope Cladwell (Rebecca Pingree) the town rebellion is rising.
MELISSA MA/ GUARDSMAN
The swingy, upbeat opening number of “Urinetown” might lead one to believe that it is a typical musical where the characters are so happy that they burst into song at any given moment, unable to contain their delight.
But "Urinetown" is not your typical musical.
Now playing at the Diego Rivera Theatre, “Urinetown, ” directed by David Parr, is presented by the City College Music Department and made up of equal doses song and dance, black comedy and satire.
A second look at the stark set — concrete stairs, a steel catwalk and a grimy tiled wall with a sign reading “Public Amenity #9” — it is clear that this is no "Mary Poppins."
The cast does swing, dance and burst into crowd-rousing musical numbers to a soundtrack of blues-, jazz- and ragtime-influenced songs as well as traditional Broadway tunes. The music is provided by a live five-piece band of piano, bass, guitar, saxophone and trombone.
But in “Urinetown,” characters sing out of sheer desperation. The play answers implausible questions like: What would happen if private toilets were outlawed after a 20-year drought? And what if the only way to use a toilet were to pay a private company a fee for every single use?
“It’s the oldest story,” the cast in the big opening number sings. “The rich folks get the good life the poor folks get the low.”
The stage alternates between the filthy, urine-stained entrance to the public toilet and an office setting where the rich, in furs, jewels and suits, come up with ways to exploit the poor so they can run off to Rio De Janeiro.
The characters sing and dance — but dressed in rags, writhing in pain and scrounging together every last penny to perform the most basic of human necessities.
All the while, the script constantly pokes fun at the play’s title and far-fetched subject matter, and at the obvious mechanisms employed for dramatic effect.
“I like the banter, the pace of the show. The comedic timing is big part of the show,” said student Corey Lappier, who plays the romantic lead and hero, Bobby Strong.
“This isn’t a happy musical,” the narrator says. “But the music is so happy,” someone replies.
Standard rules of writing are ignored throughout. The sense of reality that is usually maintained— to minimize the audience’s awareness that what they are watching is just a piece of fiction — is forgotten.
“ I was really impressed by the fact that it’s a dark comedy,” student and crew member Gonzo Gonzales said. “The mood is primarily set by music and lighting.”
A standout lead performance by Rebecca Pingree as Hope Cladwell, the naïve daughter of the evil Mr. Cladwell, lends authenticity to the completely ludicrous plot line.
Faculty member Patrick Barresi also delivers a hilarious comedic performance as the unbelievably slick Cladwell, and Katie Ramos wins the audience over as Lil’ Sally, the smartest person in town, despite being a child.
“ ‘Urinetown’ is funny, politically trenchant and satirical,” director David Parr said.
It is also unpredictable. Just when the audience thinks they know what they’re in for, somebody urinates on a wall and all hell breaks loose.