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Tuesday, 08 March 2011 15:39

You’re in for a Good Time with This 'Urinetown'

Written by Mark Bretz
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The Details

In the lobby of the area's local Taj Mahal, otherwise known as the Scheidegger Center for the Arts at Lindenwood University, is a display window paying homage to early 20th century scenic designer Lyobov Popova.

Her design for The Magnanimous Cuckold in Soviet Russia was later mimicked in the classic Fritz Lang film, Metropolis, for its depiction of an impersonal society operated much like a giant machine.

Set designer Donnell Walsh and director Nick Kelly pay tribute to Popova with a massive, sprawling concoction that showcases all manner of mechanical bells and whistles to winsome effect in the current production of Urinetown at Lindenwood.

It's hard to believe that the stylish, self-aware musical by composer/lyricist Mark Hollman and playwright/lyricist Greg Kotis has been around for nearly a decade. It remains, however, as fresh and funny and witty as when it exploded onto Broadway following its debut at the New York International Fringe Festival.

Urinetown begs, borrows or steals material from sundry sources, from Soylent Green to Les Miserables, but most notably The Threepenny Opera of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. It tells its cautionary tale of a futuristic society where a severe water shortage has led to an omnipotent megacorporation, Urine Good Company or UGC for short, charging citizens a hefty sum for the right to relieve themselves of bodily waste.

As fate would have it, the corporation's heartless head, Caldwell B. Cladwell, has a pretty daughter named Hope who has recently graduated from college and needs a job. He brings her into the family business, intending to indoctrinate her accordingly. Wouldn't you know it, though, Hope becomes smitten with fresh-faced, all-American Bobby Strong, whose father has become the latest resident to be whisked away to oblivion for urinating without paying.

Bobby organizes a citizen revolt, which leads to the kidnapping of Hope to entice Cladwell to allow democracy back into this impoverished society. But, as our narrator Officer Lockstock tells the precocious Little Sally, this is not a happy musical, even though it does have numerous nifty tunes.

Urinetown is a remarkably original work, clever in its send-up of musical and theatrical traditions as well as its evocation of some of the best of its practitioners, such as the witty and urbane Brecht and Weill. Director Kelly engagingly captures the essence and exuberance of the show, somehow corralling an unwieldy cast of college performers who convey the musical's charm in a surprisingly good presentation.

Best among the student performers are Steven Finkle and Beth Wickenhauser. Finkle makes Caldwell a limber and leering villain who revels in his fortunes and enjoys keeping the little folks under his thumb. He's delightful relishing his nastiness in the amusing number, Don't Be the Bunny. And Wickenhauser is terrific in the pivotal role of Little Sally, a diminutive sort whose heart yearns for a world of love and peace, even as she is perplexed by the commentary of the ubiquitous Officer Lockstock.

Other players in major roles include Jordan Breeden as Lockstock, Josh Rowland as his compatriot Officer Barrel, Liam Hoeh as the intrepid Bobby (most endearing on the mock gospel tune, Run, Freedom, Run), Shelby Davis as Hope (displaying the production's best voice) and Lauren Costigan as Pennywise, the harsh proprietor of Public Amenity #9.

Pamela Grooms' musical direction is lively, although her musicians occasionally drown out the singers. Donna Northcott dresses the players in a fine assortment of rags and riches, depending upon their rank in the food chain, with lighting by Natalie Smith, sound by Jennings Matney and properties courtesy of Krista Tettaton.

Director Kelly has experience with Urinetown as an actor as well. He courageously proposed to his future wife, Amy Leone Kelly, after the opening-night performance of the show at New Line Theatre four years ago. To the audience's delight, 'Little Sally' said 'yes' and the rest is history.

More information about Lindenwood's production of Urinetown, which continues March 10, 11 and 12 in the Bezemes Family Theater, is available at the university's box office. You can call 636-949-4433 for details.

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