The Evergreen Players presented Urinetown, The Musical! to a packed house on Friday. This satirical musical won several Tony Awards in 2002, and is set in a fictional world where water has become unthinkably scarce. The primary action revolves around the story of an uprising against the private company that controls access to the public facilities where everyone is forced to pay to take care of their most private business. The raw material for this musical is fabulous, as the script and score are filled with clever parodies of the musical art form and several iconic American musicals.
HE SAID: This show lives right on that thin line between larger than life and superficial camp. Larger than life, when played with sincerity, offers a lot of great moments for hilarity, whereas camp may provide some laughs but passes over the power of this piece. That said, the highlight of the show, for me, was Rebecca Donnella as Hope Caldwell. Most everyone else had his or her moments of comedy that would venture into campy caricature, where as Hope presented her character with a nice sincerity that, while having a large personality, always felt convincing to me.
SHE SAID: Although I agree that even the most ridiculous comedic pieces benefit from honest performances, the satiric style of Urinetown is somewhat forgiving of caricature. I also enjoyed Hope’s performance, but at times I actually wanted her to be even bigger. Her line readings were quite nuanced and precise, and I wanted her physicality to rise to that same level, and additionally take some risks. Her singing voice was right on point for the role, and the choral sound of the ensemble was quite good when they were all onstage (with a few exceptions when their voices were taxed by simultaneous dancing). I was impressed that all of the singers were able to project well in the space without amplification.
HE SAID: I agree with you on Hope’s physicality and the choral singers. They did have some issues dancing and singing, but generally their sound was very nice– even during the challenging acapella portion of “Run Freedom Run.” However, I disagree about the projection. I thought anyone upstage was drowned out by the orchestra – which had its own trouble finding a volume balance with its various pieces. Aside from their sound issues, the orchestra handled the music very well, which is somewhat challenging as it changes styles throughout the show.
SHE SAID: I actually didn’t notice any problems with sound balance. Overall, I thought that the artistic staff did a good job telling the story – the set and costumes alternated successfully between the extravagant company headquarters and the pungent streets and sewers. The ensemble was also really cranking up the energy to tell the story. The choreography (by Amy Michelle Smith) was clever and enjoyable, and performed with enthusiasm, though not much precision. There were a few ensemble performances I particularly enjoyed – Ami Hall as Old Ma Strong, Ken Paul as Mr. McQueen and Brian Sides as Tiny Tom were utterly hilarious, authentic and enjoyable.
HE SAID: I agree that the choreography was very fun, but I was very disappointed the choreographer and director removed most of the direct choreographic parodies that are built into the show. Iconic dance steps from shows such as Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, and West Side Story, which help heighten various musical parodies, have been in every production I have ever seen of this show and are funny every time. While I appreciate creative license and personal expression, removing these iconic dance moves really made certain parodies fall flat which meant a number of comedic opportunities were missed. The set (by Sean Cochran) was great, especially the mechanically rising bridge. It was a very dynamic space that was fun to watch. And while we are calling out ensemble members, I think Sonsharae Tull deserves a mention. She was often featured in dance numbers, but what really impressed me was her attentiveness while she was in the background of group scenes. While everyone was reacting, she wasn’t mugging or adding her own shtick, but just truly listening to the scene, which is oftentimes hard for a lot of actors.
SHE SAID: I agree that the entire production could have more directly parodied popular musicals – I’ve even seen recent productions that have added references to musicals that were written since 2002 (like Elphaba’s iconic ‘ah’ from the rafters, ala Wicked) and I think that’s a great example of how to add your own twist while staying in the spirit of the original musical. But a good deal of the comedy was retained well – I thought that the David Blumenstock as Officer Lockstock had really great comedic delivery. And much of the humor requiring group timing (WAH?!) was well-timed and well-delivered. There were also several physical pieces of comedy that had me laughing for an almost embarrassing amount of time.
THEY SAY: Although several of the performance elements lacked some nuance and polish, there is a lot of talent throughout the cast which helps make this show an enjoyable night out at the theatre. The hilarious spirit of the underlying material is on display at Evergreen Players until August 8. Consider making the drive into the mountains, especially if you’ve never seen a live production of this satirical treat.