I’ve gotta say, I was bowled over by the North Fork Community Theatre’s youth production of “Urinetown: The Musical” when I got a chance to sit in on Wednesday night’s preview of the show to take some photographs in advance of opening night — so bowled over, in fact, that I’m going to forego reviewing tonight’s show and instead tell you right here and now, before it officially opens, why you need to reserve your tickets right away.
From the opening moments, this show had me by the bladder. I’m not sure if it was the great vocal chops of this boisterous ensemble cast or the tight, funny writing, or the light-handed exposition of this crazy story, but by 10 minutes in, my legs were crossed and I was determined to remain in my seat, stifling guffaws, for the next two-and-a-half hours.
Now, “Urinetown: The Musical” is a meta play for a meta time. There’s a narrator who shares jokes about its exposition with the audience. There are hints of “West Side Story” and “Les Miserables” in its choreography. There is good and there is evil and there are capitalists, socialists and bad apple politicians.
It takes place in an almost-cartoon world inhabited by poor people who have to pay to pee and the corrupt web of police officers, shady lock-stepped figures in white lab coats, capitalists and senators colluding to raise the price for the poor people to use public restrooms in order to finance their next trip to Rio.
This musical is what would happen if Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill came to America and checked in to church — a church run by Mel Brooks and devoted to a yellow river of free-flowing pee.
Director Brett Chizever has expertly cast this production — there are so many spot-on, hilarious performances that I almost hesitate to name them for fear of leaving anybody out.
Our heroes, Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell, played by Eric Hughes and Olivia Andrunik, brim with righteous goodness. Their vocal chops, penchants for rabble-rousing, cartoonish mannerisms and genuine chemistry are just perfect for this show.
But my favorite performances were the most bizarre ones — Aria Saltini as Little Sally, a scowling little girl with a dirty face and a ratty teddy bear and a feeling that something just ain’t right; Colleen Kelly as Penny Pennywise, with her yellow Rubbermaid gloves and her toilet plunger and her face scrunched up into a horrible smirk; Alex Bradley as Caldwell B. Cladwell, an evil capitalist (and also the father to Hope) responsible for one of the most memorable of this show’s musical numbers, hopping around the stage and reminding his daughter “Don’t Be the Bunny;” and Connor Vaccariello as Hot Blades Harry, a sneering punk who wants to put an end to Hope for her father’s sins.
The two cops, Officer Lockstock, played by Patrick O’Brien and Officer Barrel, played by Kyle Breitenback, are both perfectly fascist, like Hitler on Ice.
This was a cast comprised entirely of teenagers, but of teenagers who are such good actors that I believed they were the little girls and old men and middle-aged matrons and senators and businessmen that their parts demanded them to be. That’s a rarity in youth theater, too.
The boisterous ensemble cast of white-coated brainwashed brainwashers and zombie-makeup-ed, barely human street urchins each seemed to be carrying their own backstories in their heads, and it showed on stage.
The preview audience, which packed the house, was just about the best crowd I’ve ever seen at a show on the East End, delivering whoops and hollers for some finely delivered comic lines and vocal pyrotechnics and laughing with abandon at the funniest lines in this very funny show. It helped feed the great energy coming from up on stage.
Though this is a musical comedy, the material is certainly heavy, but it’s a heaviness particularly well-suited to a generation raised in a culture well aware of the potential for disastrous environmental degradation and steeped with distrust for the corporate and political forces that can define our modern lives.
This is the kind of theater our youth can sink their teeth into, and this great cast and crew is ready for the challenge.
I heard a rumor in the audience Wednesday night that the director was considering charging members of the audience to use the restrooms, in order to raise a little extra coin for the theater. I bet such a scheme would actually work, and would be well received by an audience anxious to pee.
“Urinetown: The Musical” opens tonight, July 21, and continues through August 7, with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $20 and $15 student rush tickets will be available 10 minutes before curtain, if available. Tickets are available online here or by calling 631.298.6328.
An opening reception will be held at 7 p.m. tonight, July 21, sponsored by Lombardi’s on Love Lane.