The cast of Urinetown poses at the end of a musical number. Photo courtesy of Stewart Edmonds for the UM Theatre Department
The University of Montevallo Theater Department finished off the theater season Friday, April 13 with the opening of Urinetown, The Musical. Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’ utterly bizarre production graced the Reynolds stage with a tale of inequality in an ailing environment centering around a rather unusual focal point; urine.
Overall, the play follows the story of a greatly economically disparate town in the near future. After a 20 year drought, water shortages have largely removed the presence of private bathrooms and replaced them with outrageously priced paid public facilities. This unusual premise is first introduced at the play’s outset by the character of Officer Lockstock, played by Blake Anthony Lovelace.
Lockstock serves as not only a minor villain in the form of the oppressive chief of police, but more importantly as an ongoing narrator. Largely flippant about the fourth wall and often acknowledging the fact that he and the other characters are in a musical, Lockstock and the character of Little Sally, played by Madison Johnson, take the first of many jabs at the modern musical present throughout the play.
Lockstock and his partner Officer Barrell, portrayed by Zach Tarwater, work as the enforcement for the draconian public urination laws. The punishment for breaking these laws is exile to the mysterious and ostensibly terrible Urinetown, an ongoing vague threat to the majority of characters.
Soon enough, the main plotline establishes itself. The audience is introduced to Bobby Strong, an assistant attendant at the public accommodation. Strong, played by Alex Belli is portrayed as an incredibly average “head in the clouds” male protagonist.
After being forced to send his own father off to the mysterious Urinetown for flagrant public urination, Strong is only momentarily despondent. Much in the fashion of a fast paced modern musical, Bobby’s interest shifts wildly to the sight of a young woman lost by the public accommodation. The mysterious character, played by Brice Armstrong, is Hope Cladwell, and Strong is instantly and completely smitten.
The focus of the play follows Hope to the offices of her father, Caldwell B. Cladwell, the main antagonist of the show. Isaac Webster’s portrayal of Cladwell is that of a comically ruthless and self centered businessman and head of Urine Good Company, the corrupt organization paying off the local legislator, Senator Fipp, played by Jonathan Everheart.
With the premise established, a moment of despondency turns sharply into a clandestine, romantic nighttime meeting with Hope. After a romantic, albeit cheesy, romantic musical number, Bobby is moved to action. Turning on his superiors and taking control of the public accommodation, the revolution which drives much of the plot ensues.
If its concept is any indication, Urinetown is a decidedly surreal experience. Audience members are thrown through an incredibly fast paced and multi-layered postmodern extravaganza. Urinetown time and time again lampoons the strange tropes of the modern musical, such as too tightly focused plot or heavy handed, directionless metaphors.
While the plot of Urinetown presents a massive amount of information to the audience in a short amount of time, the story is not necessarily difficult to follow. Plus the frankly blunt narration from officer Lockstock maintains a simple thread to follow in a whirlwind of a play.
Perhaps the most important note to come out of Urinetown is the careful balance that the performance maintains. Between tight blocking, clean dialogue, powerful vocal talent and impressive choreography, Urinetown hinges on being carefully unhinged. It could easily be seen that without the amount of obvious diligent work from the theater department, a production such as Urinetown would not work nearly as well.
The production was not, however, without flaw. The fast pace left the slower or less memorable parts of the experience lagging. At certain points during the second act, the more exposition heavy portions of the play sacrificed some of the overall momentum. There were times which the primary plot felt like a hurdle to get to such exciting musical numbers as Run Freedom Run, a bright and catchy extension of the ludicrousness of the overall play.
While the dialogue was intelligent, fast paced and rich with unusual humor, the true comedy of the play shone through in the music. Such songs as “It’s a Privilege to Pee,” wonderfully performed by guest artist and UM alumna Amy Johnson, juxtaposed a rousing march-like number with the sheer oddity of the play’s plot. Similarly, Webster’s cartoonishly villainous character of Cladwell showed through in all its over the top self proclaimed glory.
By the play’s end, the audience is taken on a journey through the play’s many levels of satire, wit and sheer absurdism. Urinetown’s ultimate message within the play on the unsustainability of modern life and uselessness of metaphorical solutions was a jarring stop the the production, reminding the audience of the strange, Brechtian nature of the piece.
Ultimately, Urinetown was a delightfully disorienting thrill ride through a multi layered plot handled expertly by UM’s theater department. The play will continue its run throughout the weekend of the April 19, and tickets are on sale to both students and the public.