by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Douglas Anderson School of the Arts presented three performances in a weekend of Urinetown: the Musical, on November l7, l8 and l9.
This satirical musical comedy opened on Broadway in 2001 and ran for 965 performances. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards and won three, including Best Book and Best Original Score.
If you have never seen it, you may be wondering about this musical with the strange title. If you have, you may appreciate the potential prophecy in the show’s plot. It is a story about a city that has had many years of drought and now has an extreme water shortage; private toilets are no longer allowed. A corporation now controls all restrooms and people have to pay to use the amenities. Or to put it more bluntly, they have to pay to pee.
Now that may sound unlikely, but most of the counties in South Florida are having water shortage problems for several reasons, and major U.S. cities, including Las Vegas and Atlanta are also experiencing problems. Who knows, the day may come when we will indeed have to pay dearly for water, and also pay to pee.
DA’s production of Urinetown is the fourth we have seen. We saw the original Broadway production, the Stanton Prep production at Theatre Jacksonville, and the production by Players by the Sea. All were excellent, with interesting differences in costumes and sets.
DA’s massive set by Nolan O’Dell was certainly impressive, using multiple levels, spiral staircases and colorful neon signs. The walls and flooring appeared constructed of poured concrete, with industrial steel and mesh for stairs and rails. The angled entrance to Public Amenity #9 added a modernist touch.
The downstairs area in front of the audience was kept open for the stunning Ellie Potts Barrett choreography. In the Act One finale, the entire cast of 35 was on stage performing intricate massed dance routines; we loved the slow motion incorporated as well. DA is a school of the arts with many students studying dance, and all of them must have been in this show.
The show was narrated by Officer Lockstock, played by a very funny and talented Tyler Ramirez,who is joined by Officer Barrel (Ronald Ferraco) and the other city cops to sing “Cop Song,” one of the many show-stopping numbers.
Most of the action happens around Amenity #9, where the poor gather daily as they wait for it to open. If they don’t have the money they need for admission, they beg from people passing by. The amenity is run by a warden, Mrs. Pennywise, played by Ashley Turner. Early in the show, she displays her impressive vocal talents with the song “Privilege to Pee.” Her assistant is Bobby Strong, one of the lucky poor who has a job and who can pee for free! Nicholas Sacks is marvelous in this role, singing several rousing, awe-inspiring songs as he leads the poor in a rebellion against Mr. Caldwell (Devin Reardon), the greedy owner of the Urine Good Company (UGC) corporation. Complications happen when Bobby meets and falls in love with Caldwell’s gorgeous daughter, Hope (Jessica Jacobson). Hope is kidnapped by the mob, whose members are threatening to kill her if her father does not give in to their demands for an end to oppression.
This is as far as we will go with the plot. Does Bobby save Hope’s life? Does Hope save Bobby’s life? If you have seen it, you know what happened. If not, we don’t want to spoil it for anyone, since we are sure this unique musical will have other productions in this area one of these days.
As was pointed out in Director Lee Beger’s program notes, the music by Mark Hollmann, with lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, has fragments from several musicals including Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, How to Succeed in Business, and Fiddler on the Roof, and that was part of the fun.
Also part of the fun were some of the names of the characters in the show: Little Sally (Sarah DiGeorgio), Hot Blades Harry (Willie Beaton), Little Becky Two Shoes (Olivia Chernyshev), Soupy Sue (Jane Cassingham), Tiny Tom ( J’royce Walton), and Robby the Stockfish (Alex Edwards). Some had names not so colorful, but their characterizations were nonetheless interesting and included Mr. McQueen (Jordan Bilbrew), Senator Fipp (Josh Stevens), Mrs. Millenium (Maisaa Kayal), Dr. Billeaux (Richard Speed), Old Man Strong (Pablo Milla), and Old Ma Strong (Essence Williams). Mr. Caldwell’s sharp-looking and efficient singing and dancing UGC staff included Stacy Schoonover, Christy Mull, Myckenzie Russell, Cassandra Blockley and Katie Sacks.
The poor/rebels were played by Nichole Ignacio, Rebekah Peltz, Alejandra Ortiz, Morgan Harrison, Charlotte Fisher, Kiernan O’Conner, Sissy Hofaker, Victoria Canady, Jenniviev Gubat, Bradley Betros, Riley Hillyer and Tim Jackson.
Sally Pettegrew designed the many costumes and dressed the poor in heart-breakingly inadequate attire, with rips, tears and patches, which contrasted with that of the affluent members of the corporation. Bryant Miano was on the piano and conducted the outstanding four-piece orchestra.
We could write several pages to praise the voices; they were all that good. Mr. Sacks, as Bobby, and Ms. Jacobson, as Hope, were the central protagonists and presented incredible chemistry with sensational singing voices and great comic timing.
Thanks to Douglas Anderson’s staff and students for a big, bold, and brassy Urinetown. Thanks as well to mothers of the students who volunteered to provide refreshments for all to enjoy. It was a perfect evening of theatre.
Urinetown: Douglas Anderson theatre
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM