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For the second time in two days I have had the privilege to experience the culmination of weeks of hard work by young, aspiring theatrical artists, and the result is impressive, inspiring and simply a great night of theater. This was the fifth annual summer season of the Summer Youth Conservatory (SYC), a comprehensive theatrical training program for middle and high school students run by PlayMakers Repertory Company. The realistic goal of this program is not to make a Broadway star out of all or even any of the participants but to increase the likelihood that "significant exposure to the arts helps students achieve in school, helps them succeed socially, helps them understand the value of discipline and rigor, and helps develop them into well-rounded individuals."
The 2012 presentation of the SYC is Urinetown, the 2001 satirical musical comedy whose bizarre title, unconventional plotline and well-written musical score helped it sustain a nearly three year Broadway run. Written by Greg Kotis while traveling in Europe as a student and encountering many pay-as-you-go toilets, some aspects of the story are clearly exaggerated and out-of-bounds, but there is enough of a foundation of truth to make any thinking person squirm a bit in his seat. A quick summary is that after a 20-year drought and a nearly obliterated water supply, big business has taken over the business of doing your business and has set up pay "amenity stations" for this purpose – for a price. Want to take the chance and just go in the great outdoors? Fine, but if caught, there are serious consequences and ultimately expulsion to the mysterious place called, you guessed it, Urinetown.
Interesting story, in a science fiction sort of way, you might say, but, a musical? You bet. Music for this infectious score was written by Mark Hollman with lyrics by Hollman and Kotis. The music director/pianist for this production is Mark Lewis, and he was assisted by a trombonist, a woodwinds player, and two percussionists, one doing double duty as Lewis's page turner.
The entire cast is twenty-four strong with six of those as lead parts. The opening ensemble numbers, "Urinetown" followed by "Privilege to Pee," gives you a good sense of the story and the musical style. We meet Penelope Pennywise (Alex Pellett), the harsh gatekeeper of the poorest, filthiest urinal in town, and her assistant Bobby Strong (Adrian Thornburg). They work for the company UGC (Urine Good Company – get it!) and its corrupt boss Caldwell Cladwell (Dylan Peterson), who has a beautiful young daughter Hope (Laura Bevington). UGC has a police "force" of two, one of whom, named Officer Lockstock (Dylan Goodman), serves as the narrator, commentator on the direction of the play, and general wise guy of the obvious. His accomplice in this endeavor is Little Sally (Olivia Griffin).
It's difficult to shorten the unraveling plot line in this allocated space, but basically there is a people's revolution – led by Bobby Strong – against the big, bad corporation, accompanied by love interests amid much singing and dancing. Although all of the leads do an excellent job, standing above the general level is Thornburg as the starring main character Bobby Strong. His already seemingly seasoned vocal and dance talents, combined with his ease on stage and irresistible likability, nearly singlehandedly carries the show and portends a successful career in musical theater.
An oft-used device of star-crossed lovers is present here as Bobby, the bathroom rebel leader, falls for Hope, the daughter of the evil toilet king, without knowing that relationship. Laura Bevington, as Hope, is a perfectly cast ingénue with a strong, clear voice and excellent comic timing. Dylan Peterson as Cladwell, the aforementioned king, gives his part equal amounts of lechery and seriousness and successfully projects a much older man.
The musical score serves the storyline and characters quite well, although I cannot honestly say that I have an itch to hear it again. One exception to that is the moving gospel-tinged "I See a River" near the end of the play.
There were many full ensemble dance episodes, and these complicated, crowded numbers were executed with precision and finesse. One problem was the failure of very brief vocal solos that many of the non-lead performers had. Like a third trumpet player waiting for 42 minutes for his fourth movement solo, it is terrifying to wait for that moment in the spotlight and then having to nail it. There were too many of these unfortunate occurrences that made it sound under-rehearsed.
Other than that one negative, every facet of the entire production, including direction by Jeff Stanley and Julie Fishell (longtime PlayMakers actress with dozens of major roles under her belt) was an extraordinary example of the talents of the youth of our community. In keeping with the communal nature and philosophy of the SYC, at the conclusion of the play there were no individual curtain calls for the lead roles. Every person who took part in this should be incredibly proud, and they succeeded together.
The show concludes with a matinee performance on 7/22. For details, see the sidebar.