Urinetown is not a happy musical, as the narrator/enforcer Officer Lockstock, played by the wonderful Daniel Greco 09, tells the audience multiple times. The satirical show pokes fun at musicals in general and Les Miserables in particular, as well as, in this production, the St. Olaf Choir and numerous other ripe targets. The story tells of a town where a decades-long drought has so reduced the water table that personal plumbing has been outlawed and all residents must pay for the privilege to pee at public toilets owned by a private company. Needless to say, the poorest citizens and the politicians are oppressed by the cops and by the Urine Good Company's owner, Caldwell B. Cladwell. But anyone who refuses to pay to pee is summarily taken to Urinetown, never to be seen again.
The musical supposedly centers around the efforts of one Bobby Strong, whose father is hauled off to Urinetown as the show begins, to organize a rebellion after falling in love with Cladwell's daughter Hope, who has just returned from the most expensive university in the world. But the real heart of the show is the interaction between Lockstock and the pig-tailed street urchin Little Sally, whose conversations move the story along while poking fun at the holes in the show's logic, plot and use of musical conventions. Without Lockstock and Little Sally (perfectly pitched as squeaky-clean and too smart by Megan Hadley 10), the satirical aspects of Urinetown would fall flat. With them, though, the show manages to perfectly balance knowingness about its own theatricality and drawing the audience in through that theatricality.
Urinetown may not be a happy musical, but it is a hilarious one. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard and so continuously at a musical, and this production was a welcome change from some of the heavier fare Kelsey has played of late. In one respect, though, Urinetown is just the same as every other St. Olaf production I've seen, in that the entire cast was excellent in their singing, performing and dancing, and the show was hugely enjoyable.
Eric Little 09 and Martha Stuckey 09, as Bobby and Hope, played their roles as straight men to the rest of the production with admirable sincerity. Josiah Telschow 07 found the perfect combination of ruthlessness and creepiness, as well as suavity, in his hilarious portrayal of dictator Caldwell B. Cladwell, who can belt out a tune about the harshness of life with the best of them. Hayley Wender 07 struck a measuredly stern note as the manager of the public toilet where most of the show's action takes place, and her interactions with Telschow conveyed both attraction and animosity well.
Urinetown was also innovative in its stellar choreography, which was worked out by guest choreographer Linda Talcott Lee. Talcott Lee is a former Broadway performer who is currently an adjunct professor of dance and theatre at the University of Minnesota, and her choreography for every song but I See A River was worlds beyond anything that's been seen in Kelsey in recent memory. Whether it was the cops dancing with their night-sticks in the strangely rhythmed, well-performed Cop Song, or Cladwell's lackeys dancing around him using huge golden coins as props in Mr. Cladwell, each dance made a different but equally effective use of the stage to expertly re-enforce the song's emotion.
I'm not sure whose idea it was to include an extended parody of the St. Olaf Choir and its conductor Dr. Anton Armstrong in the midst of the song Run Freedom Run, but the cast's literally pitch-perfect imitation of the choir and Little's nailing many of Armstrong's mannerisms brought the house down, earning the song several minutes of applause after its end. The parody was just one of many satirical touches in a show whose final line is the cast shouting Hail Malthus! in a surprising appeal to sustainable living. Rather than Malthus, the audience stood up to hail the cast with a fully deserved standing ovation after the curtain fell.