Urinetown | through August 6 | Jewish Community Center, 1200 Edgewood Avenue, 461-2000 ext. 235 | $15-$18 | www.jccrochester.org.
Urine for a surprise
With a title like Urinetown,it has to be good. And the "urine" in Urinetown can be taken literally. In a future where drought prevails, H2O has become a precious commodity. In an attempt to conserve water, private home toilets are a thing of the past. Citizens line up to pay for each and every "deposit" they need make. Don't think you can avoid the tolls. "Better hope your pennies add up to the fee, we can't abide you peeing for free," informs the opening number. Peeing behind bushes or spelling your name in the snow (if it existed) is an offense punishable by exile to Urinetown. This is a place fabled to be so vile, so hideous, so torturous that the threat of being sent there keeps the masses paying to potty.
Rusted pipes create the framework for a two-story set; a jagged piece of corrugated tin looms above. Dim, dirty, and worn, both the set and the characters that fill it are downtrodden. Dressed in mismatched, bleach-stained rags and covered in filth, the indigent line up against the outside wall of the local Public Amenity. Counting their change, they pray that they've saved enough to make it past the toilet tyrant, Penelope Pennywise, played to evil perfection by Brynn Lucas. No one pees without her permission.
Unable to pay, Old Man Strong appeals to Pennywise for pity. His son Bobby, Pennywise's assistant, begs, but to no avail. Pennywise is merciless. Doing the potty dance with more enthusiasm than any 3-year-old after drinking a gallon of Kool-Aid, Old Man Strong finally relieves himself on the wall. As the police drag him away, he yells back to Bobby, "Don't forget me!"
In the gleaming building on the hill, Mr. Cladwell, CEO of Urine Good Company (think about it.), is rolling in dough. Having taken advantage of the ecological disaster, Cladwell seems single-handedly responsible for creating a lavatory dystopia. With the politicians in his pocket, Cladwell has tyrannical control over the people's collective bladder. Dressed in a sharp suit, spats, and a vest the color of new money, Cladwell sends a directive to the oppressed masses: "Look the other way while we run this company the way we want to...We'll keep the pee off the streets and the water in the ground."
After falling madly in love with a lovely, and aptly named, young woman he knows only as Hope, Bobby is distraught when he realizes Hope's surname is Cladwell. Determined to find a way to overthrow Cladwell's iron rule and free the indigent to pee in peace, Bobby must also hold on to Hope.
Urinetowntakes on the conventions of musicals, twists them sadistically, and presents them with glee. You'll hear parodies of every standard: the cheesy love song is mocked in "Follow Your Heart" and the inspirational spiritual in "Freedom, Run!" Look for allusions to West Side Story in "Snuff that Girl," led with murderous abandon by Brendon Stimson as Hot Blades Harry and Mandy Hassett as Little Becky Two Shoes. As the true voice of Bobby Strong (Matthew Wegman) sings "Look to the Sky," the revolutionaries of Les Miserablesare called to mind.
This is the Jewish Community Center's SummerStage production, which means the opportunity to see the best in young, local performers. Although casting the show entirely of high school and college students can make for strange-looking relationships (Cladwell and Hope look more like love interests than father and daughter), the energy and enthusiasm these kids bring to the stage is contagious.
The job of pointing out the ridiculousness of musicals falls to Tommy J. Dose as Officer Lockstock and Chelsea Cosco as Little Sally. Lockstock acts as a purposely overdramatic narrator to the audience and a slightly effeminate Jim Anderson of Father Knows Best to Little Sally. Dose puts in an uproarious performance in "Cop Song" and is surprisingly light on his feet for a big guy.
Cosco plays Little Sally with misleading innocence. When this teddy bear-toting, pigtail-wearing cutie in a disheveled baby doll dress throws out philosophical musings like, "Urinetown is any town where people live in fear," it's entirely comical.
Despite the fact that Lockstock reminds Little Sally more than once that this musical is not a happy one, the show is so broad, campy, and hilarious, that the audience will leave uplifted. Think Annie, but about defecation.