Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Galvanizing Production of
This marks the fourth time I have seen the musical frolic, starting with the production at the intimate American Theatre for Actors in New York with John Cullum and Hunter Foster. Director Jay Manley is helming one of the most professional stagings of the musicals that you are likely to see. It has style, wit and wonderful singing voices.
Urinetown takes place in the future when the country has had a 20-year drought and there is a terrible water shortage that has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. All citizens must use public amenities regulated by a single company that profits by charging admission for one of humanity's most basic needs. Anyone refusing to use the public toilets sanctioned by Urine Good Company is hauled off to Urinetown, from whence no one ever returns.
Bobby Strong (Robert Brewer) opposes this injustice and organizes a band of the poor who have trouble scraping together enough pennies to use the amenities, and he seizes Hope Caldwell (Alicia Teeter), the daughter of the pay-per-pee robber baron Caldwell B. Caldwell (Mike R. Padilla), to stop this mockery of justice. Of course, Bobby falls in love with Hope and becomes a hero.
Greg Kotis and Mark Holliman have composed a witty and irreverent score that has something for everyone. The premise of the hero rising up against capitalistic men of power smacks of a Bertolt Brecht play of the '20s and '30s, and much of the score has that Brecht/Weillian flavor with just a bit of the influence of Marc Blitzstein. The composer and lyricist even throw in a little Busby Berkeley number with top hats and canes that could have come out from an early Warner Brothers film.
Urinetown opens with a gem of a scene with musical conductor Brandon Adams sitting in the center seat of the front row waiting for the show to start. The town's finest, Officer Lockstock (David Curley), and his able assistant Office Barrel (Michael Rhone) come on stage and "assist" Adams to his position with the five-piece orchestra behind the stage. You know you are in for a fun time as the overture starts.
Robert Brewer (recently played Jack in TheatreWorks' Into the Woods and Opposite of Sex at the Magic) is first rate as Bobby Strong, with great vocal chops. He belts out the stirring "Run Freedom Run" with the cast joining in on this upbeat song. He is well matched by Alicia Teeter (Brigadoon and Kiss Me, Kate at Foothill) who plays Hope with a wonderfully naïve quality. She is a lovely actress and a fine singer, especially in the charming duet number "Follow Your Heart."
David Curley (She Loves Me, The Goodbye Girl, Haunting of Winchester, Memphis) is marvelous in the role of Officer Lockstock. His introductory speech as narrator is one of the best opening speeches that has been heard in a musical in years and he gives it the right amount of spot-on humor to make it memorable. He also belts out his songs with a dynamic voice. David is ably assisted by Michael Rhone (Brigadoon and San Jose Opera production of A Masked Ball and The Flying Dutchman) who is hilarious in the role of Officer Barrel. He also has a fine singing voice in several of the ensemble numbers. Jessica Lynn Carroll (Dean Goodman award winner for Ragtime) is convincingly childlike as Little Sally. Little Sally and Officer Lockstock are presented like a great old vaudeville act.
Mike R. Padilla (Sweeney Todd at Foothill) comes across appropriately sleazy as the capitalistic owner of Urine Good Company. He plays the role like a sly fox and his song of the bunny is more like a person trying sell you a used car. He has a good singing voice and his dance moves in the 42nd Street style number, "Mr. Cladwell," are first rate. Linda Piconne (On the 20th Century) as Penelope Pennywise is acidly weather beaten with an imposing voice.
Justin Weatherby (Bat Boy, Pageant: The Musical and Forever Plaid) as Hot Blade Harry gets his chance to shine in the second act by singing and dancing around the captive Hope in the number Snuff That Girl. His great dance moves remind me of something out of West Side Story. Soila Munoz (Bat Boy) as Little Becky Two-Shoes also has a powerful striking voice in that number and she certainly belts out the lyrics. She is absolutely hilarious when she attempts to walk after the soul stirring number "Run Freedom Run." This is one of the great side-splitting high spots of the musical.
Urinetown's choral work is marvelous, especially in the act one finale when it looks like the end of the first act of Les Miserables. The complete cast of Todd Wright, Ruth E Mullins, Karyne Levy, Brandon Hemmig, Afton-Ferguson-Bolz, Doug Brees, Kendra Holt, Peggy Lynch, Monica Turner, Greg Zigler, Steve Completo, David Mialiovich, Heather Orth, Molly Carter and Diane Milo all get kudos for singing and providing wonderful exaggerated stage movement.
The depression era costumes by Julie Engelbrecht add reality to the musical while the set design by Joe Ragey, which includes a fake wall to a downtrodden public urinal with grease stained windows at the top, is very realistic. Lighting design by Kurt Landisman is excellent. Tyler Risk's choreography is lively and fresh. Even the movement of the cast without the music is perfectly timed. Jay Manley has tightly directed this production with remarkable speed and energy.
Urinetown, the Musical plays through March 12 at the Foothill College Playhouse in the Los Altos Hills which is off I-280 at El Monte Road. For tickets please call 650-949-7414 or visit www.foothillmusicals.com.
Foothill's summer production will be Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun opening July 28th and running through August 20th.