In the Suburbs / 'Urinetown:' From 'yuck' to star struck
Fairfield Warde High School drama director Mark Frattaroli isn't afraid to make his audiences think when he stages a production. His choices of "Into the Woods" last spring and "Urinetown" this past weekend convinced me that Frattaroli doesn't shy away from thought-provoking, controversial, edgy musicals.
Frattaroli originally received the "Urinetown" CD from a former student and thought, "What a stupid title. Who'd go to see that? `Yuck' OK, maybe it wasn't `Yuck,' but I put off listening to it. I put off listening to a show I would never do."
Then, according to Frattaroli, "I listened to it and couldn't stop laughing. Or singing along. This show had it all: intelligence, wit, humor, and it managed to make fun of politics, theater, musicals, Big Business, the poor, Republicans and Democrats."
He lost touch with "Urinetown" until last year when he was trying to think of a funny show he really wanted to do. Senior Ethan Wise, who ultimately played a prominent role as Caldwell B. Cladwell, the evil CEO of the infamous Urine Good Company, asked Frattaroli if he was familiar with "Urinetown. As Frattaroli said, "This light bulb went on."
And Fairfield Warde High School's production of "Urinetown" was born.
I can absolutely guarantee that "Urinetown" made me think. Did I love the play? No. But I loved Frattaroli's production, the choreography, the music and, especially, the talented actors who brought this "Passion for all things `urine' to life".
To be perfectly blunt, I nearly wet myself on several occasions laughing at musical numbers that "Urinetown's creators Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman must have dreamed up in some public restroom. But I also laughed at the sheer genius of the satire and double entendres -- especially in character names like Officer Lockstock and his partner Officer Barrel.
Lockstock, played masterfully as always by Nick Salese ("Watch on the Rhine in the fall of 2010) was narrator, chief law enforcement officer and escort of lawbreakers to Urinetown, an unknown place that townspeople thought was like a concentration camp. We learned later that was hardly the case.
Salese's powerful rendition of the title number "Urinetown" set the tone for the production. He shared that this was "the big musical" and it was going to be filled with excitement and mystery.
Katie Langham (also "Watch on the Rhine from last fall) played Penelope Penneywise with power and presence. She is truly one of the finest high school talents I have seen in many years and her performance was incredible as the tough matron of a town urinal. She has a wonderful singing voice, belting out the powerful number, "Privilege to Pee" and others. And she balanced her tough, washerwoman veneer with unexpected softer sides and the audience felt real connection with Penelope.
Watch out Broadway if Katie Langham comes calling. She is already a force, owning every stage on which she makes an entrance.
And Ethan Wise lit up this performance. He looked and acted even more evil than he did for his powerful role in "Watch on the Rhine," squeezing the bladders of his customers and cavorting around like a corporate imp. Ethan's signature number, "Don't Be the Bunny," almost reminded me of evil Fagan's, "I'm Reviewing the Situation" number, in the musical "Oliver." The nastiness just rolled off his tongue.
Ethan Wise also has an incredible stage presence and will definitely go places.
I have been so impressed by Johnny Shea in the three productions I've seen him in -- "Fiddler on the Roof," "Into the Woods" and now "Urinetown" as Bobby Strong. Powerhouse hardly describes him. He is another of those natural performers who just keeps on delivering.
Shea's voice is magnetic, and when he belted out "Run Freedom Run" in Act 2, I told my wife that it reminded me of Robert Morse singing "The Brotherhood of Man" in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," a 60s hit. It was a foot-stomping, knee-slapping, hand-clapping, unforgettable number.
Hope Cladwell, innocent daughter of Urine Good's CEO and performed beautifully by Lindsey Reuter, evoked some real empathy from the chorus of poor folk and connected perfectly with Bobby Strong. Her voice was strong and sincere and her duet with Johnny Shea, "Follow Your Heart," was touching and captivating. This young actor has a lot of talent and versatility. She'll probably grow into a few more roles.
Cathleen Lisk's Little Sally was the perfect blend of naivete, curiosity and reality as she blew the lid off the Urinetown secret and gently exposed its underbelly in front of Officer Lockstock. She kept popping up through manhole covers, holding a stuffed toy and asking questions.
Particularly touching was when she revealed innocently to Bobby Strong's mother that Bobby hadn't gone to Urinetown at all. He had been thrown off the Urine Good building by Lockstock and Barrel.
Barrel herself was a bit of a twisted character, deftly portrayed by Diana Barlaam ("Fiddler on the Roof"). Her voice was crisp and strong in "Cop Song" and very sincere in "Why Did I Listen to That Man?"
When "Urinetown" ended and we were on our feet applauding for the actors in this amazing performance, I couldn't help asking myself, "What was "Urinetown" really all about? What was the message? Or did any of those things even matter?
What stood out to me was the incredible talent of the Fairfield Warde High School company that embraced this tough show and brought it to life. Kudos to a wonderful acting company and an amazing director. Mr. Frattaroli, you've done it again!
Steve Gaynes "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com.