The Columbia Musical Theatre Society’s ‘Urinetown’ provided a hilarious, pertinent commentary on political tension between business and government officials and the impoverished communities they control.
Showing from Nov. 10 to 12 in Roone Arledge Auditorium, CMTS’ production relied on comedic characters to prompt reflection on political and social injustice.
The musical follows the population of a dystopian society after a severe water shortage referred to as the “stink years.” The society members must pay for the privilege to pee—or face exile to the dreaded Urinetown.
The play parodies musicals such as Les Misérables and The Threepenny Opera. Urinetown adheres to the typical Broadway play power struggle between hero and villain with Bobby Strong, played by Gus O’Connor, CC ’20, taking on the sinister business tycoon Caldwell B. Cladwell, played by Adam Glusker, CC ’21. However, good does not triumph over evil in this musical; instead, Bobby dies shortly into the second act, and his revolution has little long term impact.
The play opens with an address to the audience from Officer Lockstock, played by Maggie Vlietstra, BC ’20, whose narration frequently addresses the audience to directly guide them through the confusing plotline. Having a law enforcer narrate the scene emphasizes the power struggle between government officials and the impoverished community they control; Vlietstra’s portrayal of the police officer is particularly entertaining, lightening her character’s serious demeanor with well-timed wordplay.
While the ensemble cast performing the overture were strong, the musicians drowned out the voices of the principal and chorus actors; furthermore, there were sound issues throughout the second act, with microphones turning on and off, that disjointed some of the songs performed.
Overall, the chorus was strong. Bernadette Bridges, CC ’19, who played Little Sally, deserves praise for her hilarious depiction of the small child and co-narrator of the show. Her high-pitched and intentionally juvenile voice, juxtaposed with her extensive knowledge of complex matters like hydraulics, was entertaining throughout.
Gabby Bullard, BC ’18, who played Penelope Pennywise, also had a powerful stage presence; her impressive singing and acting were highlights of the production. The actress commanded attention in each of her scenes, bringing a gripping realism to the absurd plot, which drew attention to the social corruption at the core of the play.
Although the main plot of the play centers on the injustice of having to pay to exercise a basic human need, the subplot follows Bobby and Hope Cladwell. The two star-crossed lovers desire revolution but are restricted by their family ties; Bobby comes from an impoverished family, while Hope’s father owns the very company that controls the public toilets.
Both of the central characters were strong singers, though at times the subplot felt disjointed from the rest of the piece. Emma Smith, BC ’19, who played Hope, captured the innocent, self-righteous daughter well, and the decision to portray the character as a Columbia graduate made her character more comedic and persona—Hope regularly refers to Columbia as “the most expensive University in the world.”
Overall, the choreography was captivating and cohesive throughout; Carina Goebelbecker, BC ’18, the show’s choreographer, produced entertaining dance numbers. In particular, the routine for “Don’t Be the Bunny” was thoroughly amusing.
During the second act, however, the play’s plot was more fractured,with the ending hastily ushered on by a series of killings and eventual revolution. Also, the cast was lacking in racial diversity, which made the gospel singing of “Freedom” uncomfortable.
Despite technical difficulties the political undertones of the play resonate today, something director Britt Berke, BC ’18, was fully aware of.
“[There are] a lot of scary political figures like Trump and Weinstein in Cladwell’s character,” she said.