2006 Season

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Southampton Press

An Audacious Urban Fable for a Suburban Audience

By Anita Gates
September 23, 2006

It was remarkable enough that “Urinetown,” born at New York’s outrageous downtown Fringe Festival, landed on Broadway, winning the 2002 Tony Awards for best score, book and direction of a musical. (The voters threw best musical to “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” possibly for its more tasteful title.) But it is amazing that the profoundly urban “Urinetown” has turned up in regional theater.

The cast of the Gateway Playhouse’s production has an uphill battle winning over its audience. At the matinee last Saturday, it seemed that people were puzzled during Act I, then talked it over during intermission and decided to like the show. Act II received a much warmer welcome.

The show’s premise couldn’t be much odder. In some scary near-future, decades of drought have led to catastrophic water shortages, and private toilets have been outlawed. An evil corporation, U.G.C., or Urine Good Company, has taken over. It manages the water supply by charging people for urinating at public “amenities.”

The show’s second song, “A Privilege to Pee,” is performed by Penelope Pennywise (Robin Irwin), who runs Amenity No. 9, with a coin changer and a toilet plunger in her tool belt. Pennywise sings, with lusty arrogance, “If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go through me.”

Audience members who have seen “Urinetown” before are likely to notice that this number is reminiscent of something. Maybe of “Reciprocity,” the prison matron’s haughty signature number in “Chicago”? First-timers may take a little longer to realize that every number in “Urinetown” is a parody of either a stage-musical genre or a specific Broadway hit of yesteryear.

The Act I finale, for example, is unmistakably “Les Misérables.” The first number in Act II is a joyously blatant “Fiddler on the Roof” copycat. The next one is a take on the gangs’ pre-rumble song “Cool” from “West Side Story.” You can either adore or detest musicals and fully appreciate Mark Hollmann’s music and Greg Kotis’s lyrics, but if you have never seen at least the movie versions of these hits, you will be lost.

Luckily, there is a lot more to appreciate in the show, primarily its audacious, deadpan, often self-referential humor. But again, it requires a certain mind-set. When the handsome, heroic Bobby Strong (Timothy A. Fitz-Gerald) decides to let everyone into the public amenity without charge, Little Sally (Melissa Bohon) sees blue skies ahead. Officer Lockstock (Gary Lindemann) discourages her: “Dreams only come true in happy musicals, Little Sally.”

But Sally doesn’t give up easily. Looking up wistfully, she replies, “When a little girl’s been given as many lines as I have, there’s still hope for dreams!”

Sally, the resident waif, who carries her beat-up teddy bear everywhere, and Officer Lockstock, whose police partner is Officer Barrel (Douglas Goodhart), have little to do with the central plot.

This is the story of Caldwell B. Cladwell (the John Cullum role, played nicely here by Hal Davis), the chief executive of U.G.C., and his daughter, Hope (Christina DeCicco, who attacks the role with pitch-perfect “Perils of Pauline” sweetness). Hope is a recent college graduate joining the company now that she has, as Dad says, “a head filled with the best stuff money can buy.” Hope meets Bobby, and their forbidden romance opens her eyes to her father’s wickedness. With an innocence befitting Patty Hearst, she joins the revolution.

This version may not have the inspired magic of the Broadway production, but the cast does a fine job. Keith Andrews directed and choreographed with obvious, contagious affection.

“Urinetown” is at the Gateway Playhouse, 215 South Country Road, Bellport, through Oct. 7. Information: (631) 286-1133 or www.gatewayplayhouse.com.


Musical Is Satire within a Satire

By Lee Davis
September 21, 2006

True satire, the unblinking kind, dashes to the heart of its target, and casts that object in a bright white light that exposes it for what it is. But what to make of a satire of a satire? Just how much light does that require?

“Urinetown: the Musical” which is currently enjoying a dynamic and hilarious incarnation at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, is that satire of a satire. Not only is it a sharp edged exposé of the very contemporary clash between runaway partnerships of big government and big business vs. the poor and disenfranchised this partnership exploits, it’s also a fiendishly original, wild and woolly satire beamed remorselessly on the Brechtian sort of socially conscious theatre that’s become more and more the subject matter and manner of more and more musicals.

“Urinetown: the Musical” from its title to its subject to the way it tells its tale, from its multi-pronged inception by book and lyric writer Greg Kotis, and its deliciously derivative (mostly from Kurt Weill) music by composer/lyricist Mark Hollman, has been a project that only a courageous (or crazy) producer would touch. I mean, intelligence in a musical? Laughter and intelligence in the same show? A musical that dares not only to reflect the ideas of the 17th century economist/philosopher Malthus, but actually to mention his name? (Malthus, You know. The guy your philosophy professor introduced you to in college, the one who preached that the world needed murderous calamities now and then to control its population. That one).

But in spite of its originality and intensity and intelligence, “Urinetown: the Musical” has endured. The runaway hit of the 1999 NYC Fringe Festival, it made the unprecedented leap to Off Broadway and then Broadway, and then to the ownership of 10 Tony nominations and three Tony awards in 2002.

The show, for all its serious subject matter, never takes itself seriously, and that’s the delight of it. It mocks melodrama, but uses it wisely. It questions idealism and then extols it. Two of its leading characters, Lockstop, a corrupt cop, and Little Sally, a sort of Annie with dirty knees, exist both in and out of the play, commenting on it and reassuring audiences that this isn’t reality; it’s only a show.

And speaking of shows. A passel of the musicals of yesterday and today come in for riotous sendups, most tellingly in the marvelously witty and derivative choreography, re-created and added to in Bellport by director-choreographer Keith Andrews and danced to a stomping, flying, fare-thee-well by a stage full of dynamic dancers: “Les Miz,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “West Side Story,” “Follies,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Annie,” “Anything Goes,“ even “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” all come in for their hard knocks.

To tell this tale of a place in which a giant corporation has taken over the privilege to pee, and, in its equally giant avarice, constantly raised the fee to pee, it takes a cast that can break down barriers of audience skepticism and eventually turn them into a cheering, whistling, applauding crowd of converts.

And the current production at Gateway has once again accomplished a casting miracle, first by engaging the hugely talented Keith Andrews to direct and choreograph with a bite and a tongue firmly pressed in his cheek and David Andrews Rogers to power the show with a small but dynamite pit orchestra.

And then, by assembling a cast that is so wild and funny and richly understanding of its material, it’s difficult to imagine its members playing in any other show. I mean, if you can carry off a send-up of a second act revival number that includes a falling out of your seats hilarious slapstick joke involving a cripple, that’s acting, folks. And that’s dancing, too.

John Patrick Hayden is an enormously sympathetic Old Man Strong, who tries to escape the urination charge and pays dearly for it. Douglas Goodhart, as a dumb and ruthless cop, is eerily effective. Steve Brady is suitably solicitous and creepy as the aptly named Senator Flipp. Robin Irwin, as the capacious Penelope Pennywise, is both threatening, and, in the end, moving.

Melissa Bohan is a delight as Little Sally, the scruffy kid who’s wise beyond her years and most of the rest of the cast. And Gary Lindemann, as the epitome of crooked cops, joins her with ironic jollity, keeping things theatrical and pointed.

Hal Davis is a threatening and villainous Caldwell B. Caldwell, the CEO of the tarantula like megacorporation that, in the name of profits, wrecks the bladders of the poor populace.

And as the lovers, one with her preoccupation with humankind’s hearts, the other with his head in the clouds, Christina DeCicco, as Hope Caldwell, and Timothy A. Fitz-Gerald, as Bobby Strong, fairly glow with the fire of their youthful idealism. Their symbolic significance doesn’t go unnoticed. When Hope, because she’s Caldwell B, Caldwell’s daughter, is captured and threatened with death by her angry captors from the poor, the chorus intones, thrillingly, after being given a lesson in behavior by Bobby, “Urinetown is your town if your hope is down and out.”

    And so goes this deliciously wacky and wonderful and out of control satire of a musical. Kelly Tighe’s scruffy set sets the mood even before the festivities begin, and the multiply placed lights of Brian Loesch move from sinister to sublime with colorful grace. Marianne Dominy’s CostumeWorld costumes are delightfully defining.

Sometime toward the end of the second act, in one of their out of plot discussions, Little Sally broods, “I don’t think too many people are going to come and see this musical.” Lockstock’s reaction says volumes: “Why do you say that, Little Sally?” he asks. “Don’t you think people want to be told that their way of life is unsustainable?”

If the telling is as supremely entertaining as it is in “Urinetown: the Musical,” the answer is a resounding yes, underlined by applause.

“Urinetown: the Musical” continues at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport every night but Monday and with several weekly matinees through October 7. The box office number is 286-1133.


'Urinetown,' the musical, is still number 1

September 19, 2006

When you gotta go, you gotta pay. And if you can't pay, and you go anyway, it's a capital offense. In drought-stricken Urinetown.

Oh, my. Look what I've done. Given the whole thing away. But then, Officer Lockstock, your uniformed narrator, spills those beans anyway as he explains the mechanics of musicals to Little Sally, who's small enough to sit on his knee but too adult to get him arrested for pedophilia.

Yes, "Urinetown" - the musical, not the place - is a state of mind where laws of ordinary musicals do not apply, though they're often evoked. Its creators wanted to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but couldn't afford the airfare. So they played the New York Fringe Festival in 1999. It was so instant a hit that by intermission people were calling producer-friends to tell them, "You gotta see this." It won three Tonys in 2003, and might still be running except the theater in which it was playing was razed.

Lucky for you, it's now getting its first Equity production on Long Island at Gateway Playhouse, where Lockstock (Gary Lindemann) wants you to know that it costs $5 to pee, and if you wait 'til intermission, the tariff rises to $9. (We didn't notice anyone collecting at the bathrooms; maybe it's included in your ticket price.)

Of course, as Officer Lockstock explains to Little Sally (grown-up, teddy-bear-hugging Melissa Bohon), it wouldn't be a musical without conflict. So, when Bobby Strong, assistant public amenity engineer (he cleans the pay toilets), gets fed up after his father is sent to Urinetown for relieving himself outside Amenity No. 9, he leads a revolution.

Bobby, played by Timothy Fitz-Gerald with the swagger of a mop-toting superhero, knows that he'll be crushed by that toilet-taxing monopoly, Urine Good Company, unless he has something they want. And that would be Hope, daughter of nefarious nemesis/monopoly monarch Caldwell B. Cladwell. Hope, impervious to irony as played by Christina DeCicco, is kidnapped by Bobby and his bladder-bursting mob. Will she be rescued in time to go to the bathroom? Will she and Bobby fall in love at the unisex public amenity? Will Miss Pennywise (Robin Irwin), the pee-fee collector with a secret, betray Hope's dad (played with Cladwellian villainy by Hal Davis)? And what's with the plug for Malthus' "Essay on the Principle of Population."

Director Keith Andrews makes nonsense of all this. But the material is so inherently funny, we could do without the wink-wink acknowledgment of parody. We know it's a spoof. The laugh-out-loud humor is aided by Kelly Tighe's stained set design and abetted by musical director David Andrews Rogers, who conducts a score that sends up such classics as "West Side Story" and "Fiddler on the Roof."

"Urinetown" is the most original, if not funniest, musical we've seen in a decade. Don't see it on a full bladder.

URINETOWN. Musical by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis. At Gateway Playhouse, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport, through Oct. 7. Tickets, $36-$42; 888-4TIXNOW, gatewayplayhouse.com. Seen opening night Friday.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc



Urinetown, Gateway’s last production of the season, an irreverent comedy hit.

By Brian Curry
September 21, 2006

Urinetown is unique fun at the Gateway Playhouse, and I do mean unique.  It’s not every day that a play, never mind a musical where the major subject is “paying to pee,” graces any stage.   Yet it works as a funny, satirical romp that pokes fun (sometimes pointedly) at big business, revolution, monopolies and a half-dozen past Broadway hits in the process.

You have to hand it to the Gateway to end their summer season with an offbeat, risqué play that does not follow the normal formula for any summer stock production.  It’s basically an ensemble cast throughout and they seemed to be having just as much fun singing and dancing as the audience was watching them.

This winner of three (and nominated for 10) 2002 Tony Awards (including best book and best score) and a Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, traveled all the way from the off-Broadway, aptly titled New York Fringe Festival, to a respectable run on Broadway until the Henry Miller theatre, where it was playing, came under the wrecker’s ball.

The hilarious inside spoofs of some past hit musicals like Les Miserables, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and I swear, even a reference to Evita, are almost worth the price of admission in themselves.  While I don’t see anybody running out and buying the soundtrack with such memorable titles as “Privilege To Pee,” “Don’t Be The Bunny,” and “Snuff That Girl,” the songs are just so funny in and of themselves and absolutely worth a few belly laughs. 

The dancing in this funny musical is also top notch and there again the tip of the hat is to those musicals of the past.  Though obviously a takeoff on past choreography that has become familiar to regular playgoers, you find yourself chuckling and congratulating yourself on catching the inside joke.

Kudos go to Officer Lockstock (his partner is Officer “Barrel”…get it?) is also our narrator and played with great comic flair by Gary Lindemann, who returns to the Gateway stage after his successful run earlier this season in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Our villain is played by Hal Davis (as the head of the company Urine Good Company…get it?) who was so good in last year’s Gateway production of 42nd Street.

Every play has to have romantic leads as our narrator pointedly points out.  And Timothy Fitz-Gerald (from Broadway’s Boy From Oz) and Christina DeCicco are up to task as the prime example of opposites attracting since DeCicco is the daughter of the evil CEO of UGC and Fitz-Gerald manages a…well, a pay toilet.

But my scene stealer award goes to “Little Sally,” played to perfection by Melissa Bohon who gets to move the play along with her witty observations and asides in tandem with Officer Lockstock.  Dressed in her Raggedy Ann attire, right down to twin pigtails and a dirty short dress, she was a hoot.

Urinetown The Musical will close out the season and play at the Gateway Playhouse through Oct. 7.  For tickets or further information call 1-888-4-TIX-NOW or visit them on the web at www.gatewayplayhouse.com.

Copyright © 2006 Gateway Playhouse