The Dual Critics Review “URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL” performed by the JU College of Fine Arts

A  JACKSONVILLE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF THE FINE ARTS REVIEW

Jacksonville University opened a four-performance run of “Urinetown: The Musical” during October 26 – 29, 2017, staged in the school’s Swisher Theatre at 2800 University Boulevard North. With ticket prices of $10 for adults and $5 for seniors, military, students, and children, the large theatre was almost filled to capacity on opening night.

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This musical comedy opened on Broadway in 2001 and ran for almost a thousand performances. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards and won three, for Best Book, Best Original Score, and Best Direction of a Musical. The Dual Critics saw the original Broadway production and it has been one of our favorite musicals.

The story is that of an unnamed city with water scarcity. After many years of drought in the area, the water table has dropped. To address the crisis, officials have taken drastic conservation measures. Legislation denies ownership of individual toilets to citizens. Instead, a Public Amenity Officer, the Sheriff, and UGC, a powerful corporation, control the establishment, maintenance, and operation of public amenities. All citizens using a public amenity are required to pay for the privilege; violators of the pay-to-pee law can expect severe punishment.

The play’s premise is perhaps not quite as far-fetched as it might initially seem. Pay toilets in public places in the states were common in the past; according to the Wall Street Journal, at least 50,000 existed in 1970. Thanks to the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America, an activist group founded in 1970 by four high school friends, the use of pay stalls was largely eliminated by the end of the decade due to public pressure. But pay toilets were never entirely eradicated, and water shortages are prevalent in many states. Could the day come when pay-to-pee is required throughout the land?

JU’s massive set by Set Designer/Technical Director Brandon Lettow is impressive, with colorful neon signs, a staircase to an upper level, and of course a public amenity. The production is entered in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and the set has been especially constructed to make it possible to be taken apart and reassembled rapidly in other venues.

The show features terrific dancing, notably in the second act, by all twenty-five members of the cast, thanks to the work of Choreographer Curtis Williams and Assistant Choreographer Charly Adams.

The show is narrated by Officer Lockstock, portrayed by the hilarious Malik Lockhart, who is joined by Officer Barrel (Melissa Allen). They are joined by others of the cast in “Cop Song,” one of the many show-stopping numbers.

Much of the action takes place near Public Amenity # 9, in a poor section of town inhabited by many who, down and out, gather daily as they wait for the opening. If they don’t have enough money, they beg for help from others; if that fails and they are apprehended in illegal activity in the woods, they are subject to criminal charges and possible imprisonment. Or worse, exile to Urinetown.

Amenity # 9 is run by Penelope Pennywise, portrayed by Isabella Martinez, who has a fantastic voice. Ms. Martinez recently won the Players by the Sea Pelican award for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in “American Idiot.” Her assistant is Bobby Strong, one of the fortunate poor who has a job and can pee for free. Casey Gulledge is marvelous in this role and has a phenomenal singing voice. He is a junior and we are looking forward to seeing him in other productions.

The charismatic Bobby leads the poor in a rebellion against Caldwell B. Cladwell, the greedy owner of Urine Good Company (UGC). LJ Glanton has an amazing voice and fills the role with elegant flair.

Relationships become complicated when Bobby meets and falls in love with Hope, a lovely woman who is Caldwell’s daughter. The role is portrayed by Shelby Mosely, a fabulous singer. Hope is kidnapped by the mob and held hostage; they threaten to kill her if her father will not accede to their demands to end the company’s maltreatment of the town’s poorer citizens.

This is as far as we will go into the plot. At this point it plays like a melodrama. Can Bobby save Hope’s life? Can Hope save Bobby’s life and his job?

The music by Mark Hollmann, with lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, incorporates references from several musicals which include “Sweeney Todd,” “Les Miserables,” “How to Succeed in Business,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” The excellent band, which is visible on stage, is conducted by Musical Director Jay Ivey on keyboard, with Dillon Acey (Reeds), Erik Blomgren (Trombone), Holden Hackney (Drums), and Mamie Lue Small (Bass).

The colorful names of many characters add to the fun, they include: Little Sally (Shauna Clark), Hot Blades Harry (Carlos Adorno), Tiny Tom (Spencer Barney), Robby the Stockfish (Joe Mahoney), Soup Sue (Kyrstin Creswell), Little Becky Two-Shoes (Zoe Lin Rosas), Billy Boy Bill (Christopher Mandel) Joseph “Old Man” Strong (Joe Aloi), and Josephine “Ma” Strong (Vera Keyes). While other characters may have had less colorful names, their attributes were interesting. They included Senator Fipp (Chelsea Diaz), Mrs. McQueen (Andrea Vilarino), Dr. Billeaux (Kristen Oliver), and Mrs. Milennium (Savannah Elam). Caldwell’s UCG staff included Jackie Glassman, Carley Stickney, Sarah Stepp, Abrien Nelson, and Brian Champion, all wonderful dancers and singers. Charly Adams handled swing duties.

Curtis Williams designed the costumes. He did a marvelous job, with the impoverished lower-class citizens clothed in wretched attire, while the upper-class members displayed their wealth in their choice of fashionable and expensive dress.

Urinetown was Directed by JU graduate Erik DeCicco, who received his Masters Degree in Acting from the University of Louisville. He previously spent some time in New York, appearing in a Fringe Festival musical and as a character in “The Making of the Mob,” an AMC Television show, in 2015. Erik is a highly regarded director of musicals and other genres and he has appeared as an actor in shows at the Alhambra and other local theatres.

Additional creative team members included Michaela Wright (Assistant Director); Austin Kelm (Lighting Designer); Amy Lane, Sabrinna Maples, and Diana Chestnut (Dramaturgs); and  Zachary Polendo (Production Assistant).

This rousing version of “Urinetown” brings excellent song, dance, and energy to JU’s stage.

Jacksonville University offers many interesting events which are open to the community and include both theatrical and musical works. See https://www.ju.edu/cfa/cfa-events.php for details.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

october, 2021

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