USC’s Musical Theatre Repertory proves once again (in the immortal words of The Who) that “the kids are alright” with their latest production, the 2001 Broadway hit musical Urinetown.  

Entirely student performed, directed, and designed, MTR’s Urinetown makes for an entirely entertaining evening of contemporary musical theater at its most original, and a great fit for these late teens/early 20s triple-threats. After all, with a title like Urinetown, and a plot as “out there” as the one devised by creators Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, this is clearly not your grandparents’ musical.

Urinetown takes place at a time in the not so distant future when decades of drought have caused such a shortage of water that “It’s A Privilege To Pee,” i.e. private toilets have become illegal and people must pay to use the amenities.  When our hero Bobby Strong learns that his father has peed illegally and been sent to Urinetown (=the worst fate imaginable), Bobby leads a rebellion against Urine Good Company, the megafirm which owns and operates the public toilets. Then, in true Romeo and Juliet tradition, Bobby falls for Hope Cladwell, the beautiful daughter of UGC CEO Caldwell B. Cladwell, and finds himself caught between his romantic heart and his revolutionary ideals.

What makes Urinetown work (it ran nearly 1000 performances on Broadway and has since become a regional theater favorite) is its tongue-in-cheek, irreverent attitude, its clever dialog, its quirky but hummable score, and (especially in the MTR production), some of the best choreography you’re likely to see this or any year.

Ian Littleworth makes for a dashingly heroic Bobby, demonstrating stage presence and powerful pipes. Lovely Megan McDermott has just the right off-centeredness to make her Hope far less bland than she might appear on paper, though her voice sometimes gets lost in the Massman Theatre. As Cladwell, a very good Tucker Brown looks and acts every bit the power-hungry tycoon he’s playing. Deane Sullivan has just the right tongue-in-cheek quality for Officer Lockstock, sharing narrator duties with Little Sally, a deliciously smart-alecky Kim Dalton.  

Sullivan and Dalton get some of Hollman and Kotis’s best lines, as in the following exchange, early on in the show.
Little Sally:  I guess you don’t want to overload them with too much exposition, huh?
Lockstock: Everything in its time, Little Sally.  You’re too young to understand it now, but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.
Little Sally:  How about bad subject matter? Or a bad title even? That could kill a show pretty good.

Erin Pruziner gets many laughs as Lockstock’s partner, cleverly named Barrel (Lockstock & Barrel), though I would have preferred a tad less mugging to the audience.  Matthew McFarland as the psychopathic Hot Blades Harry and Elizabeth Pye as foul-mouthed Little Becky Two-Shoes are standouts in “Snuff That Girl,” one of Urinetown’s many great production numbers. Supporting performances are uniformly fine—Allen Darby as greedy Senator Fipp, Thomas Krottinger as the rebellious Old Man Strong, Greta McAnany as Bobby’s strong-willed mother Josephine, , and Braden Davis as Mr. McQueen, Cladwell’s statuesque subordinate.  Playing assorted “Rebel Poor” and UCG staff members are multi-talented Sydney Blair Friedman, Jeffrey Watson, Adrienne Storrs, DJ Bickenstaff, Emma Chandler, Carrie St. Louis, and Jen Bashian. 

Finally, reinventing the role of tough-gal “amenities warden” Penelope Pennywise is dazzling star-on-the-rise Janet Krupin. With abundant charisma and comedic chops, and a voice that can belt higher than you might think humanly possible, Krupin is the kind of performer you can’t take your eyes off of.

Co-directors Melissa Trump and Sean Kranz deserve high marks for scaling down a big-stage Broadway musical to intimate theater dimensions, and for eliciting much dynamic work from their cast. Musical director Michael Alfera merits equal applause for his crackerjack piano playing and for the great harmonies he’s got his singers creating.  Chris Payne on drums and Eliana Athayde on bass provide excellent musical backup.

Quite possibly the biggest star of the evening is Friedman’s sensational choreography, easily as exciting as any I’ve seen in professional productions. There’s more dancing in Urinetown than in any musical this side of 42nd Street, and more stylistic variety than in any single show I can think of—tributes to Fosse, Michael Bennett, Jerome Robbins, just to name a few, executed in energetic precision by these terrifically talented USC Trojans.  No longer can a musical theater performer be just a singer or just a dancer, and these triple-threats prove just how much talent is out there.

Kudos to costume designer Joe Kennedy, scenic and lighting designer Trupp, sound designer Kranz, hair and makeup designer Friedman, and the rest of the MTR design team.

Much as I relish the chance to see major Equity productions of big Broadway musicals, an occasional student production of the caliber of MTR’s Urinetown can provide entertainment at much the same level, plus the enthusiasm and energy that future pros have in abundance. Anyone who wants evidence that in today’s musical theater the kids are indeed “alright” need only head over to USC’s Massman theater for abundant proof.

Massman Theatre (at USC), 1029 Childs Way, Los Angeles

–Steven Stanley
January 21, 2010

Comments are closed.