Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of The Parkside Players' production of Urinetown: The Musical at Grace Lutheran Church by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Parkside Players' production of "Urinetown: The Musical" at Grace Lutheran Church (Forest Hills) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Urinetown: The Musical
Directed by Bill Logan
Musical Direction by Jeffrey Arzberger
Choreography by David Arzberger
The Parkside Players
Grace Lutheran Church (103-15 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills, NY)
Reviewed 5/24/15 

Urinetown: The Musical is a timely tale of crony capitalism, corporate greed, paying off the police and bribing the political elite (a trip to Rio, anyone?) in a time of water shortages, decreasing natural resources and worldwide ecological devastation. It also touches on the elements of a successful revolution, the inability of revolutionaries to deliver on the lofty promises made, the tragedy of the commons, populism, socialism, capitalism, and the realities of supply and demand. Urinetown: The Musical debuted at the New York International Fringe Festival and then was produced Off-Broadway at the American Theatre for Actors from May 6, 2001 to June 25, 2001. The musical then opened on Broadway at Henry Miller's Theatre on September 20, 2001, closing on January 18, 2004, after 25 previews and 965 performances. The show won a Tony Award for Best Book and Best Score. The music was written by Mark Hollmann; lyrics were by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis; and the book was written by Greg Kotis. Urinetown: The Musical is a satirical comedy musical that parodies musicals such as The Threepenny Opera, The Cradle Will Rock, Les Miserables and the Broadway musical itself as an art form.

According to the storyline, there was a time many years ago called the Stink Time, where due to drought, the reservoirs dried up and there wasn't enough water to flush all the toilets as many times as people would like to use them. As a result, people urinated everywhere and the city stank. Along came Caldwell B. Cladwell and the UGC (Urine Good Company) that offered the politicians a solution that would "keep the pee off the street and the water in the ground." UGC would require everyone in town to use public amenities and pay for the "privilege to pee." That would reduce water consumption and draconian laws would require everyone "to use public toilets to take care of their private business." Violation of the law might just result in the police expelling you to Urinetown. Since no one knew whether Urinetown was a real place or just a euphemism for the police killing you, everyone lived in a state of fear. To make matters worse, Caldwell B. Cladwell continued to call on the legislature to raise public amenity fees and obtained that result through bribery and payoffs (not to mention a "Beaches of Rio" slide show). This resulted in a backlash and a revolutionary uprising amongst the "hopeless, down and out" who could no longer afford to pay to pee. Before the poor could beg and ask people to "spare a penny for a pee" but now they could no longer beg for enough money to afford the fee hikes.    

Hope, Cladwell's idealistic daughter, just returned from graduating one of the best universities in the world. She has started work as a "fax and copy girl" for her father and has instantly fallen in love with Bobby Strong (everyone loves Bobby Strong; how can she not fall in love with him, after all, he is the hero of the show), whose father was just sent to Urinetown (get the shovel and mop - you know the drill). Penelope Pennywise (who we later learn is Hope's biological mother), collects the money at Public Amenity #9 at which Bobby Strong works. She defends the law and the punishment his father got for peeing in public but Bobby Strong expresses a revolutionary idea. He says, "What if the law is wrong. What if we change the law and allow everyone to pee without payment or restriction. A new law that comes from a muscular, blood-pounding organ (e.g. the heart) where no man will be denied because of the money he has and no one will be denied help by someone with the means to help him." Bobby's heart wants a planet where peace and joy reign and everyone has plenty of water. Caldwell B. Cladwell tries to reason with Bobby by encouraging him to think about tomorrow and what his proposed socialist policies will result in over time. Bobby's populist supporters seem only concerned about today and Ms. Pennywise fears that anarchy will follow and runs off stage yelling, "What will become of us!" The corrupt, but realistic, Mr. Cladwell warns that "Life is a beating" and that everyone's goal in life should be to avoid "being the bunny." 

Eventually, Hope Cladwell joins and leads the revolution after Bobby Strong is martyred. The UGC is taken over and she orders her own father killed. She ignores the results of the water studies her father had requested and allows free access to water for all who need it or want it without limitation or cost. The remaining water eventually becomes "silky and brackish," and undrinkable. Hope continues expressing platitudes such as the "river is within you" and telling citizens that they "are the river fighting for freedom and fighting for justice." Hope (appropriately named) is killed by the mob despite her good intentions, and it is implied that everyone in town eventually dies of dehydration, which is followed by the drying up of the Amazon River Basin and the end of life on the planet itself. No happy ending here! Hail Malthus!

This production of Urinetown: The Musical was expertly directed by Bill Logan and featured some innovative choreography by David Arzberger. The very professional five-piece live orchestra included Jeffrey Arzberger (Music Director/Piano), Heather Arzberger (Reeds), Andrew Viverito (Trombone), Richard Louis-Pierre (Bass), and Chris Wengert (Percussion). The entire cast is very talented but the three standout performers were Erik Neilssen, who charismatically played Officer Lockstock (the Narrator), Katherine Robinson, who was the cheerful, idealistic Hope Cladwell, and Michael Wolf, who nailed the part and personality of Caldwell B. Cladwell, the greedy but realistic businessman. There were some funny, unexpected moments when Senator Fipp, believably portrayed by Mark York, claimed to have once been a little girl, and when Officer Barrel, powerfully brought to life by Michael "Phoenix" Gray  expressed his true love and admiration for Officer Lockstock. I don't mean to suggest the performances of Jeffrey Tierney as Bobby Strong, Jenna Kantor as Penelope Pennywise, Lori Feren as Little Sally or David Arzberger as Old Man Strong/Hot Blades Harry were deficient or inadequate in any way. All did a fine job with their respective roles. But in each case, I would have liked to have seen them better distinguish their character in some way.  

I guarantee you will enjoy The Parkside Players' production of this interesting and thought-provoking musical. You have two more weekends to catch Urinetown: The Musical at Grace Lutheran Church in Forest Hills. The cost is $20.00 for adults and $18.00 for seniors. For tickets and reservations, call 718-353-7388 or 516-520-9474 or reserve on line at http://www.parksideplayers.com 

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