RIVERTON — As the name suggests, Riverton Art Council’s “Urinetown” makes a parody of actual American landscapes.
In an outrageous dystopia meant to satirize our own, an extreme drought has led to water shortages and the rise of business mogul Caldwell B. Cladwell’s (Heath Bateman) evil corporation, U.G.C. (Urine Good Company — get it?). Through the corporation’s lobbying efforts, private toilets have been successfully outlawed — U.G.C. now charges impoverished masses high fees for “The Privilege to Pee” (the musical’s second number, sung by Lani King as the coin-counting, Rosie-the-Riveter-esque Miss Pennywise).
As the curtain opens, policemen walk through the audience and onto a stage of close-legged bathroom goers, threatening to “seize” anyone who pees “for free” outside of Urine Good Company’s toilet, Amenity No. 9. When this exact scenario unfolds, the audience discovers that peeing criminals are taken away to “Urinetown,” a nondescript “place” embodying the whole of human desperation — a place "we won't see until Act 2," Officer Lockstock (Rex King) tells the audience.
This is only one example of the show’s self-referential commentary on musicals, accomplished through cut-away scenes and musical numbers whose formats and lyrics satirize popular Broadway hits such as “Fiddler on the Roof," "Chicago" and “Les Miserables.” While familiarity with Broadway will help audiences experience the play’s parodies in whole, these numbers stand well on their own as intrinsically comedic pieces — and Riverton’s cast sings them all exquisitely well.
But for all its commentary on Broadway and the two-act structure, “Urinetown” leaves a sincere impression — more than one of an extended witty remark. When Hope Cladwell (Jessica Yergensen), the golden-hearted daughter of Mr. Cladwell, meets Bobby Strong (Jacob Shamy), the son of Old Man Strong who was taken away in the play’s first act, the musical’s honest emotional undertones emerge. Hope places her ear on Bobby’s chest to “listen to his heart,” and begins to sing about Bobby’s secret longing for world peace in a stunningly high-pitched solo. Similarly, when Bobby sings to the audience about pursuing his heart’s vision in spite of hardships, the audience can’t help but step away from the “Urinetown” scenario and remember their own deep-seated longing for a world with health, peace, freedom and opportunity for all.
While the rest of the cast had little to do with the story’s forward movement, all sang with the tone and well-practiced melody of lead performers. The harmonies in the music were particularly well constructed — and well rehearsed — making “Urinetown” a pleasure to listen to regardless of its lyrical content.3 comments on this story
As far as the production and set, the directors made ample use of the theater’s odd restaurant-style setup, with actors coming into the audience and some scenes taking place on the blocked-off peripheral second floor of the theater. Because of the theater’s immersive setup, the audience was integrated with the “Urinetown” set — in spite of the play’s unusual premise and satirical style, viewers seemed willing to accept the increasingly peculiar events unfolding around them.
A good mix of music, comedy and reality, Riverton Art Council’s “Urinetown” is a wonderfully performed and fascinating piece that illustrates some aspects of America’s most obvious — yet eternally unresolved — political and social conflicts. While the musical fails to offer a solution, it does remind its viewers of the collective American dream while making light of the capitalism-based confusion which continues to surround us.