A mostly young cast of freshmen and sophomores does Creighton University proud in "Urinetown," a musical spoof that opened Wednesday.
While the acting is uneven, the show rides on strong vocal harmonies delivered with zesto by a high-energy chorus, plus nicely executed choreography and a handful of strong actors in key character roles.
"Urinetown," which opened a two-year run on Broadway in 2001, won Tonys for best book and score. It's a clever spoof of the musical genre, stylishly aping hit songs from iconic shows like "Les Miserables," "Threepenny Opera" and "West Side Story" with ironic detachment.
The show winks at its own joke, through banter between Officer Lockstock and Little Sally that directly makes fun of musical conventions. Extreme romanticism is punctured every time by cynicism.
Simultaneously, "Urinetown" cleverly lampoons political and corporate corruption, as well as the rashness and ignorance of the rabble.
A 20-year drought has led the government to save water by requiring citizens to use only public pay toilets, which are run by Caldwell Cladwell's corporation Urine Good Co. Violators are hauled away to Urinetown, never to be seen again.
Things reach a crisis point when UGC raises prices, and the citizens rebel. Bobby Strong, whose father was arrested, leads the rebellion. Penelope Pennywise, a tough woman who runs one of the public facilities, is caught in the crossfire.
Matters are complicated when Bobby falls hard for Hope, Cladwell's beautiful and naive daughter. At the height of the conflict, he kidnaps her.
As Hope, Ariel Talacko delivers the show's most impressive singing. Her operatic-sounding soprano suits Hope's idealism. Ephriam Harnsberger, as Bobby, has a powerful baritone voice that can really cut loose in high-drama moments. Colleen Kilcoyne, as Penelope, and Kirk Hauck, as Cladwell, also sing well.
Patrick Kilcoyne, as Officer Lockstock, and Cristine Tancredi, as Little Sally, not only harmonize well together but are terrific character actors, bringing stage presence and comedic skills to their roles. Patrick Kilcoyne also did a creditable job of designing the massive set.
Director Leah Arington Grair has done wonders with this young cast, keeping pacing brisk and paying attention to character detail even in minor chorus roles.
Kudos to musical director Stephen Sheftz, whose chorus sings so well on difficult rhythms and atonal chords. An a cappella stretch of "Run, Freedom, Run" was a highlight. The 10-piece orchestra wasn't quite at performance level at a Tuesday preview, but added performances will help.
Student choreographer Joe Wright can take a bow for creative moves and crisp delivery on big dance numbers like "Cop Song," "What Is Urinetown?" and the hilarious "Don't Be the Bunny."
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