REVIEW: Art Factory’s misleading take on ‘Urinetown’ aims for the bowl with varying success
The city at the center of the musical Urineville is built on an impoverished, drought-ravaged wasteland where you have to pay to pee. However, the musical itself is built on other Broadway shows, even if it pokes fun at them. The local Houston Art Factory theater makes good use of parody and slapstick humor, even trying to update the material with varying success.
The show opens with cop/corporate thug Officer Lockstock (Jared Barnes) and young street urchin Little Sally (Julia Noble) describing the premise of the story: a severe drought has led to Urine Good Company, property by Caldwell B. Cladwell (Tyler Galindo) accusing people of peeing and making public urination illegal. Hero Bobby Strong (played by show director Colton Berry) leads – well, more like walks with – a revolution after his father is taken to the eponymous exile colony Urinetown as punishment for peeing in the street when he could not pay his fees to use public facilities. Along the way, Strong finds his obligatory love interest in Hope Cladwell (Ashley Cooper), the daughter of Caldwell B. Cladwell, and helps to overthrow corruption in her town.
The spirit of the show and the production of Art Factory is very ironic. The show is a pure parody, of “Act One Finale” copying several of its notes from Wretched‘ “One Day More”, to a vocal riff in “Look At the Sky” that sounds suspiciously like Idina Menzel’s final triumphal notes in Nasty breathtaking “Defying Gravity”.
Colton Berry gives a fun performance as musical comedy hero Strong, delivering many of his lines with a kissing ham, talkative vibe. His voice is impressive and moving, especially in Act II’s “Run, Freedom, Run”. Heather Hall also delivers excellent and powerful vocals as Penelope Pennywise, the overbearing operator of Public Amenity #9, the dirtiest urinal in town.
One of the update attempts UrinevilleThe material for was series villain Caldwell B. Cladwell, with Galindo doing an Alec Baldwin-esque Trump impression. The connections are there – a ruthless businessman playing with the rights of the people below him to “caaaaash” (for best effect, repeat that with a groaning croon). However, after the initial, admittedly warm, laughter from the audience, one gets the impression that the impression is only superficial, especially when comparing Trump’s and Caldwell’s environmental track record. Maybe Trump is just a low hanging fruit, or maybe Alec Baldwin’s view of him is just worn out at this point.
Cooper’s Hope Caldwell eventually takes center stage and leads the revolution, but before that, her treatment at the hands of the male cast is horribly sexist. These jokes, which include Strong sticking his hand to his shirt “to feel his heart beating”, are played for laughs but don’t quite land, coming off as rather tired and misogynistic. It may be because Urineville attempts to parody Broadway for its treatment and portrayal of women, but the show doesn’t go far enough to make it truly satirical, instead landing in discomfort.
Part of the show’s sound mixing results in lyrics being lost to the viewer, especially in songs with multiple singers or where a delicate balance is needed between music and vocals. Art Factory works with a smaller space, which made the show feel a little cramped at times, but overall the production takes advantage of their smaller stage to break the fourth wall with jokes about changing stage and blocking. In one scene, the authorities fail to catch the rebels because, as Lockstock points out, the choreography has them running too slowly.
Luke Hamilton’s choreography was excellent, especially in “Cop Song,” a number performed by Lockstock, his sidekick Officer Barrel (yup, that’s one thing), and their fellow boys in blue. At one point in the song, the lights went out and the police danced and stomped around, flashlights in hand, giving it a dark edge.
This dark edge runs as an undercurrent beneath the whole musical, as Lockstock points out in the series finale issue, “It’s not a happy musical.” Yes, the poor succeed in overthrowing the rich and the corrupt, but that does not solve their problems. In many ways, this makes the situation worse. Beneath Trump’s satire, socio-economic commentary and jokes, Urineville does not fail to remind us that revolutions rarely end well, even if they do so in the same comical way.
Until March 1. Tickets $25. Art Factory, 1125 Providence St. 832-210-5200. More info and tickets at artfactoryhouston.com.