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Saturday, March 9, 2024
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Department of Performing Arts balances satire and strife in ‘Urinetown: the Musical’

The social commentary was presented vibrantly on the Greenberg stage

From Feb. 22 through Feb. 24, the Department of Performing Arts presented its first musical of the semester, “Urinetown,” at the Greenberg Theater. 

The satirical yet chillingly foreboding musical was brought to life by staff director Kathryn Chase Bryer, choreographer Robert Bowen Smith and music director Deborah Jacobson. Originally written by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman, the show proved to be a humorous interpretation of a grim outlook on human morality.

“It seems so incredible to me that this play and this statement alone were written over twenty years ago and yet, when I look around, I see the same woes plaguing this country,” Bryer wrote in the show’s program. 

She continued by asking audiences, “what better way to deal with the trials and tribulations that we face today than by laughing at ourselves?” 

Urinetown, which premiered on Broadway in 2001 and ran until 2004, is a contemporary musical that provides a tongue-in-cheek commentary on unsustainable natural resource use, governmental corruption and corporatism. 

The show follows Bobby Strong (Carson Young), a young man in a quest to liberate his city from having to pay for public restroom use. This ordinance was set by the tyrannical government due to water shortages plaguing the futuristic city. If someone does not pay this ever-rising fee, they are sent to “Urinetown,” or the place (presumably a type of prison), where those who defy the law are taken. 

After his father, Old Man Strong (Dylan Nicholson) becomes tired of the laws and gets taken to Urinetown for not paying Ms. Pennywise (Katie Zimmerman), the administrator of the public toilet, Bobby is outraged and decides to stage a revolution against these oppressive laws.

Along the way, Bobby falls in love with Hope Cladwell (Rebecca Morris), daughter of Caldwell B. Cladwell (Dylan Toll), the nefarious CEO of Urine Good Company, which is the corporation monopolizing profits from the public toilet fees. 

This further complicates Bobby’s quest, as he must balance his animosity for Cladwell’s father with his love for her, all while working to overthrow the policies that make it, as stated in the musical’s third song, “a privilege to pee.” 

The story’s self-awareness as a satirical musical comes from Officer Lockstock’s role as the narrator, and is accented by earnest and often profound interjections from Little Sally, an adorable, perceptive little girl. 

Through consistent use of colloquialisms and interjections directed at the audience, the duo (played by Jared Kirschenbaum and Katie Lurie respectively), proved to be a wonderfully sarcastic addition to the show’s snide nature. 

Highlights of the production included Young’s (Bobby Strong) striking vocals, which were complemented by harmonies from the rest of the cast under Jacobson’s direcion. Morris’s portrayal of Hope Cladwell’s enduring innocence-turned-grittiness added an element of wistful romance to the otherwise grim plot. 

“At the surface, Urinetown is a fun and silly musical, but at a deeper level, it examines and comments on the current state of our world,” Rebecca Morris, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said. “By playing Hope, I was able to convey these important messages through an entertaining and engaging medium.” 

Run Freedom Run,” a performance in the second act of the show after Bobby rallies the town’s civilians in the revolution against UGC and Cladwell, was one of many manifestations of the cast’s incredible musical and storytelling abilities. 

Led by Young and performed in the style of a gospel choir piece, the triumphant, jubilant song brought together the music, choreography and emotion of the show in a strikingly inspirational way.

“‘Run Freedom Run’” is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to perform, so the feelings of excitement, fear, and joy were constantly spiraling through my head, however, when it would get to be too much, all I had to do was look to my cast mates for love, strength, and support,” Young said. “Some of my closest friends were on stage performing with me, and if I remembered that, I felt like nothing could stop me, even if I felt like I was going to pass out at the end of the song each night.” 

The cast’s talent further radiated through the intricate choreography of a variety of musical theater dance styles in the song “Snuff That Girl,” which included interludes from other musicals surrounding themes of social resistance, such as Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story.  Other choreographic highlights included intricate pop and lock-style choreography in “Cop Song,” and a burlesque-style fan display in “Mr. Cladwell.” 

Dylan Toll, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences who played Caldwell B. Cladwell, attributed the show’s success to its extensive rehearsal process. 

“Being a freshman, I can only thank everyone for fostering such a kind and warm rehearsal space.” Toll said. “I loved playing around with everyone and we were generously given the opportunity to go crazy and fail and fall on our faces.” 

The production was equally stunning visually as it was audibly. 

Working from a masterfully-constructed set designed by Sarah Beth Hall, costumes that perfectly balanced timeless elaborateness and scrappiness by Costume Shop Associate Ted Hill, and lighting by Jake Brennan and Victoria Allen, the production truly transported viewers into the ragtag dystopia that is “Urinetown.” 

“I love how Urinetown makes the audience think,” Young said. “Were the rebels right or was Cladwell? With the show being a satire, it uses that to its advantage to deliver deep messages and ideas through humor.”

This article was edited by Marina Zaczkiewicz, Sara Winick and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks and Sydney Kornmeyer.

 Hosts Sara Winick and Sydney Hsu introduce themselves and talk about their favorite TV shows. This episode includes fun facts, recommendations and personal connections. 

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