Urinetown: the number one musical in town

by Alicia Lazzaro / Beacon Correspondent • April 11, 2011

To pee or not to pee? That is the question for the characters in Urinetown: The Musical. They are facing a water shortage and, therefore, a lack of toilets due to a 20-year drought. Emerson’s Musical Theatre Society will present Urinetown this weekend in conjunction with Emerson Peace and Social Justice’s World Water Week.

Urinetown, a satirical comedy that parodies the typical musical form, pokes fun at capitalism and corporate mismanagement.

Relieving oneself is a privilege in the musical’s setting, as toilets are no longer allowed in homes and only those who are able to pay the fee can use the public toilets. These public amenities are controlled by the evil owner of the megacorporation Urine Good Company, Mr. Cladwell.

Those who don’t follow the rules are sent to the mysterious Urinetown, never to return to society.

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The musical follows the story of a rebellion lead by young Bobby Strong to take down Cladwell and restore the freedom to pee to everyone.

A budding romance develops between the hero, Bobby, and Cladwell’s daughter, Hope. The chemistry between Nathan Chang and Vanessa Moyen, both senior BFA musical theater majors, is palpable from the first moment they hit the stage together. Moyen embodies Hope’s dual personality with her bright outlook on life and also her willingness for revenge.

“[Bobby] starts to realize that things aren’t right and that things should be different,” said Chang. “Once he realizes that, he meets Hope and then she opens up his mind essentially, so that he realizes that things could be different and that he could be the one to change things.”

Two narrators, corrupt police officer Lockstock (senior BFA musical theater major Noel Carey) and impoverished Urinetown resident Little Sally (junior acting major Chelsea Davenport), set up scenes and add commentary for the audience.

Carey guides the audience through the show with comical ease and portrays Lockstock’s emotional indifference for sending rule breakers to Urinetown. “He’s a very interesting narrator because he is also very much a part of the story and affected by the people and the events of the play that he is leading,” said Carey of his character.

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Davenport effectively evokes Little Sally’s innocence through spot-on facial expressions as well as her intelligence, often outsmarting her older counterparts.

“It’s done through a lot of humor and jokes, but I think the heart of the issue is really serious. I think that breaking the fourth wall in that way, having the narration, allows the audience in and lets everyone know that it is in all fun,” said Chang.

Senior BFA musical theater major Anthony Jackson directs the show and said that this rendition of the musical stays true to the original by being honest to the text, written by Mark Hollmann.

A slight change that Jackson made from the original, first performed on Broadway in 2001, is to give the musical a comic book feel through the costumes and set design. “There is an identifiable hero; there is the pure evil, so we get this good and bad, black and white, which I think is an element of comic books,” said Jackson.

Jackson’s vision succeeds —  some of the characters look like they were plucked straight from comic book lore. Mr. Cladwell and his henchmen wear crisp, clean suits, and black thick-rimmed glasses. Bobby Strong looks like your typical hero, donning slacks and a fresh face filled with hope and innocence.

The musical is not only sharp in its comedy, but also in its social advocacy. All of the proceeds of the ticket sales will go to UNICEF’s water sanitation efforts. “There is a very stark message about the state of the world and the environment,” commented senior acting major and executive producer Abigail Vega. “It is still a very funny show, but there is definitely a mission.”