The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Urinetown
Organization Roseville Theatre Arts Academy
Date(s) of show March 6 - 21, 2015
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb

When I saw Urinetown playing in Sacramento many years ago, I couldn’t imagine myself ever seeing such a tacky show.  I've come a long way, though, and I have to say that Roseville Theatre Arts Academy’s production Tony Award-winning musical was nothing short of spectacular.  If it doesn’t garner a bushel of Ellie nominations, then surely something is wrong with that awards program.  So what made this show such a dazzling success?

One element is star power.  Those with the leading roles blew me away with their singing, their acting, and how deeply they were into the parts they were playing.  Kevin Nelson as Officer Lockstock was the Narrator, and he simply took command of the show with his brash manner and big, confident voice.  He was a focal point for much of the show’s humor.  Then there was Jake Young as Bobby Strong.  He looked to me like a young Michael Douglas, with the same charisma, to which was added loads of talent for dancing and singing.  It was watching him when the idea that the show had “star power” came to mind.  But that concept applied to so many others, as well.  Amanda Duisenberg as Penelope Pennywise initially impressed me with her singing, but she turned out to be such an outstanding villain.  And Julia Hixon was hilarious in her exaggerated portrayal of the naďveté of Hope Cladwell.  To me she was so funny that it was almost surprising when she displayed such a beautiful voice.  Luke Donahue as the evil Caldwell B. Cladwell was another actor with a fine voice and a good comic sense.  And Miriam Mars was perfect as Little Sally and got some key laughs.  Then there was Jake Romero as Hot Blades Harry.  I first noticed him in one of the dance numbers as the person who moved so fluidly.  But I recognized him as a complete performer when he sang just a few bars at the end of a scene, and I found myself saying involuntarily out loud “Broadway voice.”  And the person next to me whispered their agreement.

Now here’s my problem.  I want to call out many of the other actors who played their parts to perfection, but I didn’t pick up all their stage names so I can’t identify them.  And I don’t want to overlook those in the ensembles.  One of the elements behind this show’s success was the enormous energy that the whole cast brought to every scene.  It was as if there were a Starbuck’s concession backstage.  This commitment of each person to making the most of their part was evident throughout the show, and was key to the audience’s involvement:  one could scan the stage and always find something interesting, even far from the principal action.  But these performers displayed more than just energy and commitment.  Early on I was struck with the quality of their singing and their execution of the complicated and diverse choreography.

There was another element at play.  I noticed early on that the acoustics were particularly good.  I’m thinking of the dialog picked up by the actors’ body mics, and sound man Ken Duisenberg gets credit there.  But I think it went beyond technology.  With microphones so ubiquitous actors seem to be paying less attention these days to projection and articulation, and mics notwithstanding, I find myself losing a lot of dialog.  Last night, I thought I perceived special attention to both projection and articulation.  There were lapses, of course, but overall, I got much more of the dialog than usual, and it made the show much more enjoyable.

A performance like this is greatly enhanced by a live band, and with Musical Director Jennifer Vaughn at the piano the 5-piece delivered a thoroughly professional performance.  Still, to my taste, the music in this show is not great; one wouldn’t want to go out and buy the soundtrack.  OK, “Run, Freedom, Run” is one tune you would leave the theatre humming.  Yet all the scenes built around songs worked very well, and they did so because they were brilliantly executed.  Besides the excellent singing from principals and ensemble, there was Stephen Hatcher’s choreography.  There are stock moves you can give a cast who aren’t trained as dancers (though some of these people were obviously trained).  But I saw hardly any of those overused moves.  What I saw instead was a constant stream of fresh choreographic ideas, all well executed by that high-energy cast.  And some of those ideas were screamingly funny.  A recurring example of this was when the choreography borrowed from other well-known musicals.  By the time I’d noticed what was going on, I counted borrowing from Les Mis, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story and Annie and I bet there were other examples that I missed.  I’d love to describe a couple of these moments, but I don’t want to spoil your surprise.

The show was self-aware, mostly through the commentary provided by narrator Lockstock, who often facetiously pointed out the symbolism of the action.  He frequently reminded us that this was a musical, and his comments were a big part of the humor.  Indeed, the humor was essentially non-stop.  For a start, everything in this show is over-the-top, starting with the title.  There’s a lot of potty humor, but there is so much more that kept the audience laughing.  Fundamentally, Urinetown is a farce, so nearly every character is grossly exaggerated.  But in a way everything is exaggerated.  There are constant sight gags, funny gestures, witty dialog and the pace of the action is almost frenetic.  They wrung every possible laugh out of every situation.

To me, all this boils down to excellent directing.  Director Colton Archey wasn’t satisfied with the obvious way of paying any scene or delivering any line, or moving on the stage.  And I’m sure his hand was at work in what is, to me, another criterion of an excellent show:  they showed me things I’ve never seen before.

One final comment.  I’m rarely conscious of lighting effects, but lighting in this production was noticeably effective and creative, and Dave McCullough and Ian Anderson deserve a bow of their own.

The opening night audience shared my enthusiasm for this show with their standing applause and cheers.  If you’re put off by the title, my advice is:  get over it.  It’s a wonderfully entertaining production, and if you miss it, you’ll be missing something really special.

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