To pee or not to pee, that is the question.
That’s enough potty humor. In fact, there is no more. I promise.
My wife, daughter and I just attended the opening night of URINETOWN THE MUSICAL at The Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, NJ. Let me say this first: don’t let the name fool you. This is not a show full of potty humor. It is a hilarious satirical attack on the legal system, corporate greed and corruption, capitalism, social irresponsibility and municipal politics. At the same time it pokes fun at itself, the Broadway musical as an art form, and specifically at shows like THE CRADLE WILL ROCK and LES MISERABLÉS. And that’s if you want to be serious. If not, the show is full of “unexpected surprises,” if I can say that. Okay, wait for it.
On the fun scale from one to ten, this production has to be over twelve. Seriously. So, even if all the brilliance of the intelligentsia, or the satiric wit doesn’t impress you, I promise the performances are lively enough to keep you smiling all night long after your bout with laughing hysterically. The music is catching. The singing is flawless. The characters keep coming at you. All the while you know it’s a play because Officer Lockstock tells you so, but you let these dirty characters in because they are so individually different and engaging.
Secondly, superlatives are not enough, but I’ll get to them soon. I’ll even number them for you. The short and sweet of it all almost sounds contrary to its name: URINETOWN THE MUSICAL is one of the best musicals I have seen in a couple of years–even at The Eagle Theatre, where I can always count on a good professional show in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area.
Usually theatre critics start with a synopsis, but here…well, it might be a little grim for you. No more than…say, LES MISERABLÉS. Okay, just a little. There is a worldwide drought with no sign of letting up and the water table is judiciously guarded. Not only the homeless, but everyone has no place to go (you know, to pee and such) without paying a company that has taken over the public facilities. No private toilets allowed. The company has bribed its way through the police and legislature to make huge profits. It is strictly against the law–punishment harsh and swift–for anyone to use the bushes as a facility and, therefore, affects the water table. To do so means a trip to Urinetown, which is a euphemism for being executed. As prices to use the facilities continue to rise, the society using those facilities revolts. There is a love story as in every musical I can think of–and a strange satirical, comedic ending. It’s really about how we get there that is all the fun. Remember, it is more than a story.
Let’s start at the beginning of our opening night theatre experience:
It’s opening night at The Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, NJ. The rain is coming down so hard my convertible is leaking; I don’t know–maybe I should put the top up. I know immediately as I walk into The Eagle Theatre that this is a professional theatre. Oh, not all the shine of fine furnishing. What they have is certainly nice enough. It is the theatre people, smiling greeting audience members as they enter and to usher in “first class” ticket holders to their special area up front, an angel stands, also greeting everyone. (1) (My 14-year-old daughter who is accompanying my wife and me, whispers excitedly, “Dad, she’s sooo pretty!” She’s at that age where she would like to skip the rest of her teen years and suddenly be 20.) Did I mention that this theatre has a wonderful wine bar?
Backstage, The Eagle Theatre company of professionals are getting ready to unleash a very unusual musical on the audience. From the very first when one of the co-artistic directors, Ted Wioncek, III, is led to the front of the stage in handcuffs by two sturdy policemen, giving him the evil eye while forcing him to instruct the audience quickly with the usual introduction, i.e., turn off cell phones, no texting, check out the wine bar at intermission, and the 2014 season. Ted is quite the comedian in his own right in reacting to the policemen’s threatening posturing, so the mood is set (2).
Brilliantly directed by Ed Corsi (3) so every scene is art on stage. Ed is also the co-artistic director of The Eagle Theatre. Choreography by Justina Ercole was so varied and appropriate that it blended perfectly in the moment (4). I suspect some of the credit is owed also to Franklin Anthony, the dance captain (5). Kate Schafer’s costumes also hit the mark (6). Justin Walsh’s set worked well, too, (7) and the director used every bit of it. Lighting (Chris Miller) (8), sound (David Pierron) (9) and music (Tom Abruzzo) (10) were at their usual best.
The company as a whole was terrific, but you know the individual performers that grab you sometimes with the notes they can reach or the characters they nail to become the ones who stand out for you. Here are mine: narrator and villain, “Officer Lockstock,” played with a most evil sneer by John Jackowski (11), “Bobby Strong” (our hero) played with a look and a grin by the devilishly handsome Tim Rinehart (12), Megan Pisors played “Hope Cladwell” as beautiful and innocent as she is with two of something–hearts, I think (13), Molly Tower played “Penelope Pennywise” with such power in that beautiful voice and unbelievable presence…(14) Paul Weagraff played the villainous company boss, “Caldwell B. Cladwell,” with such honesty he wasn’t far from being booed off the stage (15) and finally but not least, I couldn’t be more impressed with Samantha Morrone as “Little Sally” who I loved from the moment she stepped on the stage (16). She truly owned the part. And, so did they all.
URINETOWN THE MUSICAL
Music by Mark Hollmann
Lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis
Book by Greg Kotis
Directed by Ed Corsi
The Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street
Hammonton, NJ 08037