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‘Urinetown’ sparks laughter and praise with a plot about distressed bladders

By Katie Decker-Jacoby

Section: Arts

December 2, 2016

Jokes, singing, costumes, a live orchestra, dancing, melodrama and satire galore—Tympanium Euphorium’s production of “Urinetown” had it all. “Urinetown” seriously impressed and excited loads of laughter among audience members, on Nov. 17-20 in the SCC Theater.

“Spare change! It’s expensive to pee,” exclaimed actors at the door, on stage and trudging through the audience before the show began. Right off the bat, the actors’ interaction with audience members roused interest and took advantage of the entire auditorium. With a musical named “Urinetown” and actors complaining about the price of peeing, it is quite natural to ponder the meaning of this show.

Narrator and police officer Lockstock, played by Zain Walker ’19, immediately addressed the audience’s curiosities. “Urinetown” is “a mythical place, a bad place,” he clarified. Walker went on to explain that they were experiencing a calamitous water shortage. Members of this dystopian society had to use costly public restrooms to urinate, which were yellow tiled stalls labeled “Public Amenity No. 9.”

The opening song detailed the public’s struggle to pay for the bathrooms. “Our bladders are distressed,” the actors sang in the first number.

Penelope Pennywise, played by Morissa Pepose ’17, managed Public Amenity No. 9, checking that everyone paid their dues. “It’s a privilege to pee,” she said, further emphasizing the miserable condition of the lower class of society. Having been in a drought for the last 20 years, nobody gets to use the toilets for free, according to Ms. Pennywise.

Pepose did an outstanding job staying in character throughout the entire show. She always sported a hateful, forbidding expression on her face, and her body language reinforced her character’s cold aura.

Benjamin Steinberg ’18 as Cladwell B. Cladwell also had a strong stage presence. He commanded the stage in a domineering yet humorous way as Mr. Cladwell, the unscrupulous boss of Urine Good Co. Cladwell outwardly took pride in his ability to “manipulate great masses of people,” as he was intentionally scamming the public throughout the whole musical. Cladwell’s strong stage presence and humor continued when he and his employees danced in a chorus line, donning silver hats and praising the almighty Cladwell.

Lead roles Derek Scullin ’18 as Bobby Strong and Caitlin Crane-Moscowitz ’20 as Hope Cladwell most certainly captured the audience’s attention with their singing and acting. The two followed a cliché first meeting scenario, with cheesy antics like shyly avoiding eye contact and listening to each other’s hearts. They literally listened to each other’s hearts, unhesitatingly placing their heads on each other’s chests. This foolish young love resumed in several other scenes. Above all, their singing skills unquestioningly impressed and stood out.

Determined to rid society of any corruption, Strong launched a rebellion with other penniless individuals. Old Man Strong, played by Alex Peters ’18, showed up waving a flag with a toilet plunger painted on it. Other insurgents protested with signs that read, “Urine Trouble,” “Pee for free,” “I’m mad!” and “I’m mad too!”

When Ms. Pennywise announced she had a plan to fix the corrupt system, and when Strong declared his love for Hope, characters on stage said, “Whaaaaaat?” and turned dramatically to the source of shock. Characters’ evident stupidity and over-exaggeration were a constant source of jokes and laughter.

“Urinetown” also showed its witty side, like when Leah Sherin ’19 as Ms. McQueen exclaimed, “What an unexpected surprise!” and Hope replied, “Is there any other kind?”

The musical additionally entertained with satire. “Nothing can kill a show like too much exposition,” Walker joked after he rambled on introducing “Urinetown” to the audience. When Little Sally, played by Nyomi White ’20, asked Officer Lockstock what was happening, regarding the revolution, Lockstock answered, “the Act I finale.” There were plenty of other moments when Lockstock reminded everyone that this was all just a musical, not reality.

His sarcastic disposition provided a successful source of satire throughout the show, evoking much laughter from the audience. His partner in crime, Officer Barrel, played by Eli Esrig ’19, made the two a very amusing dynamic duo on stage.

Ultimately, Strong and his rebels took Hope captive in hopes of Cladwell surrendering, Pennywise and Hope joined the revolution, Bobby died, or “expired,” as they said in the musical, Pennywise turned out to be Hope’s mother and it was up to Hope to fix society. However, as narrator Lockstock warned the audience, “Urinetown” is not a happy musical.

Although “Urinetown” does not have a happy ending, costumes, lighting, sound, the live orchestra, set design and all other contributors definitely succeeded in making this theater production one of the best shows I have seen at Brandeis. The cast displayed an abundance of talent in addition to the lead roles. It was awesome how a few members of the ensemble got solos, so the audience could hear other incredible voices too. The ensemble’s talent was impossible to overlook. It was clearly a group effort to produce such a seamless, lighthearted, comical show.

“Every single cast member was extremely committed to his or her role and the energy put towards each performance was clear,” remarked Hannah Taylor ’19, who was part of the ensemble.

“The cast had a great group dynamic and that comes largely from the effort Gabe Walker put into the show,” Taylor expressed. Taylor commended director Gabe Walker’s ’19 efforts to help each and every actor develop their characters. Walker additionally made it a top priority to instill confidence into his cast and crew, according to Taylor. “The cast was also close off stage. There was a sense of gratitude that was seen in the way everyone interacted with one another,” Taylor added.

The audience seemed to share a very positive reaction to “Urinetown” as well. “Quality experience,” Matt Guerra ’18 concluded. “Gabe did a really good job of direction. He made the town feel alive. He really thought about every single aspect and made sure everyone had their own character,” raved Ellie McKnight ’18. “It was really smart to have the characters naturally ambling around before the show, and also to make sure that everyone in the ensemble had these little personal touches. It just made it more of an engaging show,” Isaac Satin ’19 said.

In addition to the cast’s effortless group dynamic, it collected donations to help residents in Flint, MI, who are currently struggling in a water crisis. They raised an impressive $170.

On top of directing his first show at Brandeis, Walker played Senator Fipp on opening night and both Saturday performances due to an injury with the original actor for Senator Fipp. “It was certainly an interesting experience! It made me feel much closer with the cast, and was ultimately pretty fun. Senator Fipp is a pretty strange character, so it was fun to tackle it,” Walker expressed.

Even though this was Walker’s first solo directing gig at Brandeis, he has had plenty of experience directing in the past. It is safe to say that in addition to the cast and crew’s commendable efforts, Walker’s extensive theater skills and knowledge helped “Urinetown” become a very noteworthy Tympanium Euphorium production.

“I didn’t know most of them very well when we first started, so I was flabbergasted by the talent and professionalism they put into each and every rehearsal,” Walker said, continuing, “I hope we all created something they can be proud of.”

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