Presented by The MIT Musical Theatre Guild
By Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann
Directed by Daniel Epelbaum
Music and Vocal Direction by Paul Gallagher
Produced by Caroline Walsh and Anni Zhang
Review by Danielle Rosvally
(Cambridge, MA) Urinetown is a tough piece to tackle. It’s a satire and, as such, full of clichés that are meant to be hit precisely right in order to ring hilarious and not maudlin. It’s a dark musical with dark themes, a dark plot, and a dark ending. Last, but certainly not least, there are several technical demands that make it an interesting theatrical problem to solve (one character is thrown off a building onstage…. Try staging that without a fly rig).
The MTG production of Urinetown showcases some incredible talent. Natasha Batten absolutely steals the show as Hope Cladwell. Her wide-eyed and genuine heartfelt goodness is truthful and honest, an incredible feat for an actress offered the saccharine material her part consists of. She has an incredible set of pipes, and knows how to use them. I would listen to her sing the phone booth on a slow boat to China and call it “entertainment.” Eric Fegan is unexpectedly charming as Bobby Strong, proving that first stage impressions can be deceiving. Once it became clear that bumbling awkwardness was a character choice, it also became clear why Fegan was chosen as the unlikely leader of a doomed rebellion. Brandon Sanchez might be having the most fun playing corporate Evil Mastermind Calwell B. Cladwell. He hits all the right character notes, and his strong physicality couples with a powerful voice that can support the demands on the part.
The set is impressively adaptable even in its Spartan nature. A single set of giant stairs, which was only cumbersome once, served multiple functions as different angles of the stairs were dressed for different locations. As such, most set changes entailed simply rotating the unit to bring the audience into a new place. Set designer Brandon Sanchez (a man of many talents) clearly put a great deal of thought into the entire system, and it worked out nicely.
There were a few snags the production hit which I hope they iron out before the end of the run. While every performer was wearing a body mic, the levels were not well-adjusted. Since MTG boasts a live band for each performance, this is a huge problem. There were several characters whose singing parts were simply inaudible. In a play as lyric-dense as Urinetown, this flaw was not optimal for understanding the story. It’s an easy fix, and hopefully will be taken care of before the remainder of the run.
A second perhaps more delicate snag led to some embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions for several cast members. In this post-apocalyptic setting, mini skirts seem to be the bottom-wear of choice. While some cast members had leggings or opaque tights under their minis, there were others who were given cute lacey stockings. Unfortunately, they weren’t given Spanx or other accompanying undergarments. In a play with as much death, dancing, twirling, and general movement as Urinetown, this choice was awkward for audience members and likely mortifying for cast members. For the love of democracy, get those girls some hot pants.
My last quibble is not with the production, but rather with the ideology behind it. The program note seems to indicate that this production is meant as a statement about our current political climate. Unfortunately, the moral of Urinetown (written into the script even) is that activism is ultimately useless; the populace gets exactly what they ask for (no more) and overthrowing a tyrant might just be a terrible idea. Based on the liberal-leaning director’s note, I can only assume that this is not what director Daniel Epelbaum is striving to communicate. This mixed message seems to indicate that these fine actors-for-social-change are missing the point: yes, Urinetown is a warning about the dangers of activism. But no, that doesn’t mean it should be applied directly to our current political situation. Doing so implies there’s no hope and that one puckered, orange-faced, presidential buffoon is just as bad (or good) as anything else that could happen to a country.
If you have an evening free this weekend, you could swing by MIT to catch Urinetown. It’s definitely an experience worth having. For your own mental health, I’d say avoid it if you’re still feeling volatile about the election; probably best not to feed the mental fire of political pessimism if such a thing would be stressful to you.
We have elected a tangerine ass-bugle bigot with scrawny hands and terrible hair to the office of the President. The theatre community has every reason to be scared that the national budget for the arts will be slashed. It will be. Certain republicans tend to disrespect experimental, avant-garde, or simply new art. If it challenges the white, straight, hetero status quo, they tend to be against it. New things frighten them with their difference. Belts will need to be tightened. For the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating your art despite this painful bullshit. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. Please keep fighting the good fight. – KD
#blacklivesmatter #translivesmatter #brownlivesmatter #yellowlivesmatter #lgbtqialivesmatter #immigrantlivesmatter #muslimlivesmatter #disabledlivesmatter #theatreartsmatter