Urinetown at the BJCC
by Harry Gilbert
On the night of the final performance I arrived fifteen minutes late. All the ticket windows were closed, their shades drawn and little mouse-hole windows shut tight. My guests were a good friend, Brooke of Flowing Waters, and her mother. Brooke was leaving for Hawaii within the week and the only thing she wanted was to go to a Broadway show before she left.
I had no clue whatsoever as to whether my two tickets for the 8:00 Saturday show would get three of us in, considering I hadn't paid for them in the first place, and that it was after show-time on Sunday night. I didn't think that my chances for impressing the ladies were very good at all...that is until, just a few minutes later, we were being quickly escorted, programs in hand, to our seats. It kicked ass.
One of the wilder fringe successes ever to go on Broadway from "off" continues to cripple audiences with laughter even though, after three years, some of the original cast members have inevitably moved on. For the November 4-9 shows at the BJCC, care of the Birmingham Broadway series the show was tight, the timing was immaculate, and the cast owned their show.
Tom Hewitt as Officer Lockstock was hilarity in a pigsuit, balancing his roles as narrator, negotiator, and chief enforcer with an almost stern but hopelessly lighthearted flair that makes it easy to see why he was nominated for a Tony in 01. Caldwell B Cladwell, a favorite among audiences for his darkly hilarious "dont be the bunny" song, which is so caricaturist that its almost surreal, is portrayed by Ron Holgate. Holgate most recently starred as Don Quixote in a national tour of Man of La Mancha.
Beth McVey fills the role of Penelope Pennywise, Cladwell's secretary and secretly the mother of another character. Hope Cladwell's character is given life by the beautiful Christiane Noll, whose golden voice and brilliant pout, along with her uncanny timing add a sweetness to the tension of her captivity and the threats to her life, that few other actresses could so artfully create on stage. Meghan Strange, as Little Sally, and Jim Corti, as Old Man Strong and Hot Blades Harry, round out this oh so groovy cast. Urinetown is at once a farce, a mystery, and a story of people banding together to overcome adversity, but it deals with the idea of musical theater on its own terms. This show is funny, and I dont mean lame-ass Broadway funny, this thing is GOLD. Urinetown doesn't just break the forth wall, it tears a hole, builds a window, then has a chat with itself, all the while almost treating the audience like a bunch of lucky voyeurs.
This production may now be in a Broadway theater, and it certainly boasts Broadway caliber talent onstage and off, but it succeeds in remaining faithful to its Fringe roots the "grunginess" which was referred to by reviewers of its off-Broadway incarnation, and the space is almost intimate.
Set designer Scott Pask has still not abandoned the show's earlier designs in favor of more snazily technical stuff; most of the simple set elements are rolled around on casters by the actors. To the sound designers great credit, the mincing of the performers and the band were superb, the human roundness of the actors voices was clear, and there were no kinks in the lights either.
Brian MacDevitts lighting design lent an economic, yet emotionally powerful range to the limited amount of set hardware, that really made it seem like there was much more rearranging going on than actually was, and his effect for the point of a character's death made my heart skip a beat
John Rando continues in terrific form, exploiting every laugh, beautifully telling the story and holding our attention until the last possible moment of the show.