Los Angeles Theater Review: URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL (Coeurage Theatre in North Hollywood)

by Jason Rohrer on November 9, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles

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AGITPOOP

When Urinetown opened up Off-Broadway in 2001, then splashed all over Broadway just after 9/11, the show was hailed as a Brechtian revamp of musical theater. About an overpopulated, under-hydrated world in which private toilets are outlawed, Urinetown is a simultaneous assault on fascist economics and on mindless revolution. It’s supposed to be a black comedy, but composer and co-lyricist (with librettist Greg Kotis) Mark Hollmann admonishes in the published script that the jokes aren’t funny if you wink.

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The current revival by the wonderful Coeurage Theatre Company does little else. A show that doubles as a political satire and a parody of musical theater asks more than this director has provided; Kari Hayter rejects the mode and style necessary for such an act to play. She directs major talents the wrong way, mostly, as when the lovely Ted Barton mugs his way through delicately composed expositional speeches about the drawbacks of expositional speeches. Barton is an excellent mugger with delightful diction, among other skills and talents, but his material screams to be deadpanned.

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Nicki Monet and Jamie Pierce are terrific, displaying a full comprehension of the grounded razzle-dazzle line this show must dance. Most of the rest of the cast is good or better, though Gary Lamb is badly miscast in a role that requires a flamboyance not apparent in his nature. Hayter has assigned, or allowed, not very much in the way of personal business among the actors. Therefore many of these intentionally two-dimensional characters, cribbed from other musicals, lay flatter in this show than on the page. Christopher M. Albrecht’s choreography is similarly uninspired, exactly the wrong choice for activist art like Urinetown. I should want to burn City Hall after this show. Instead I just wanted to go home at intermission.

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Gregory Nabours’ musical direction achieves some very nice harmonies, but on opening night unmiked soloists were repeatedly drowned under the single keyboard (Peter Shannon) that accompanies the show. Brandon Baruch does good work with some of Hayter’s most creative staging, involving practical lighting effects, but these handheld keys require spaghetti-snarls of cable strewn about Matt Scarpino & Hannah Welter’s hideous set. This physical meta-design works inasmuch as all the post-apocalyptic parts are of-a-piece, but the result is an ugly thing to look upon for two hours. Emily Brown-Kucera’s props gave me my only belly-laugh in a strained evening.

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That said: If you are more forgiving of most musical theater than I am, which wouldn’t take a very big heart, you’ll probably enjoy this. I find most of these songs stupid and pointless, especially in a production that highlights their superficiality. But there are moments, almost exclusively created by individuals, in which the joy of performance transcends the overall mundanity. And there’s no denying that Urinetown‘s particular tang, the stink of business interests determining our desperate lives, is more pungent than ever since Tuesday.

photos by Nardeep Khurmi

Urinetown: The Musical
Coeurage Theatre Company
Lankershim Arts Center
5108 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood
ends on December 3, 2016
REOPENS January 6, 2017 for a run through February 25
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
for tickets, (Pay What You Want) call 323.944.2165 or visit Couerage

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ezra Buzzington November 29, 2016 at 11:03 am

What. No mention that Urinetown started at the NYFringe Festival? Careful. They might come after you.

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Jason Rohrer November 30, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Your old buddies are on hiatus. I figure I’m safe until they find another hit to push.

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