OREM — Ok, So for those of you who know the schtick of Urinetown, bear with those who don’t; Urinetown is about a place where, in the face of a water shortage, the government has turned over to a large corporation the right to regulate water use, ban private bathrooms, and charge people to pee (and poop, which only gets one mention in the show, oddly…hmmm). And it is one of those broadly appealing, honestly funny, don’t-have-to-be-a-musical-lover-to-enjoy type musicals. This is true largely for two reasons: A-it’s really really funny and B-it’s really thought provoking.
To the first point this show manages to take advantage of what’s there (lots of subtle sight gags or witty dialogue that is timing and gesture dependent, and the actors and director, Dave Tinney, understand that the little gesture in a sea of stillness sells the visual joke. They do a good job not stepping on the gags but not over-selling them), and it does a good job of adding it’s own; there’s a little FDR gag with the corporate villain, oddly disabled in this production, and in an old wooden style wheelchair that in inescapably reminiscent of the good ol’ Franklin who is, appropriately, all about the Benjamins (I know, I know…wrong Franklin, sue me). There is also a great little recurrent flashback that is handled with originality and charm with each reinvention. Basically, there are lots of smart decisions that keep an audience entertained, and keep it from feeling like a chore dragging us from song to song, which is often the case in many local musical interpretations. In fact, in this production, It was the songs that were more of the chore. Well, I take that back. Not a chore, just not as alive as the book portions, and the fact is, that’s largely an issue of clarity. The numbers are still lively and funny and quite well conceived, but the cast falls a little short in the volume and diction category, especially the lead, (insert name here) who plays Bobby Strong…unfortunately his voice, nice as it may be…(wait for it, wait for it)…is not (what would an art review be without the obligatory word play…or five or ten. If you can’t beat ’em join ’em!). Aside from the vocal volume issue and a slightly unintegrated and one note performance from Little Sally (whatever, insert actor name here. I lost my program!) that, while charming at times, tires, the only other complaint I can offer is this: Urinetown is more complex than it seems; a satirical social commentary and animated rhetorical argument. which brings me to point B.
This is a thought provoking piece, or at least it’s supposed to be; it takes shots at capitalism, populism, good intentions, and petty political realities that so often obscure the larger really-at-stake issues. The study guide brings all this up, tells us all about Thomas Malthus, (look it up) and prepares us to leave thinking and laughing. Now I know there are some who, bless their hearts, would leave unaffected by anything other than a sledgehammer, but I knew the set-up, I was all-in to be perplexed, but they spent so much time making sure I laughed, and didn’t give a proper build or delivery on some of the final plot points, that I left laughing…and feeling a little bit like they were siding with the big corporate jerk. I felt like they were telling the little guy not to complain if government lines their pockets and doesn’t give a flip, ’cause if you tried you’d do an even worse job. Now I know there are elements that suggest that, but that’s hardly the point of the show. And I’m sure that’s not what they were going for, but I felt like some of the issues at play were not given the same thoughtful timing and space like the gags so carefully were, so consequently I left remembering the gags, and forgetting the content, or, oddly, wondering if they were going for what seemed like a deeply pessimistic oversimplification of the themes present. I can’t really put my finger on exactly what required the adjustment…maybe an ability to relate to the Hope Character, maybe just the lack of sharpness in some of the final scenes, but it left me feeling, as I have tried to embody in this article, replete with ellipsis and parenthesis: I loved it! (…but).
Final thought: All nit picking aside, here’s the thing: I’ve seen three shows at UVU recently: left satisfied at all three.
So keep it up UVU. Way to show the big dogs that creativity stretches further than money.