‘Urinetown – The Musical!’ Comes to the RTC

 ‘Urinetown – The Musical!’ Comes to the RTC

By Dan Guarino

“What is Urinetown?” Audiences will find out as the Rockaway Theatre Company (RTC) presents its production of “Urinetown- The Musical,” opening Friday, April 5. The free-wheeling full stage musical/comedy/satire /drama, filled with romance, intrigue, social comment, perils, dance numbers, even a revolution or two, runs for 11 performances through April 21, at RTC’s John Gilleece Theatre at Fort Tilden. Tickets are available at www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org.

“’Urinetown’ is far from your typical musical!” director John Panepinto concedes. “It often pokes fun at the idea of what a ‘typical musical’ is…takes the idea of a ‘musical comedy’ and twists it around into something solely unique.”  It pointedly parodies even itself, as the narrator, Officer Lockstock, admonishes another character, Little Sally, that “too much exposition” can kill a show. “Or even a bad title” can, she shoots back!

The story is about “love and hope in a hopeless, loveless world and how, sometimes unfortunately, there’s just no room for it…but yes, it’s a comedy. It takes place in a future where a worldwide water shortage has left the population in disarray, leaving an opening for one power hungry corporation to take over entirely. They rule with an iron fist and claim that the only way to stay alive is to force people to pay to use the bathroom.,” Panepinto said. The poor can barely survive under the harsh laws that keep the system in place and “the water in the ground.” Panepinto explains, “If they break those laws, however, they’re sent to the phantom ‘Urinetown.’ Eventually things come to a head and one heroic young man leads an uprising, but the question still remains, ‘What is Urinetown?’”

“Urinetown,” written by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, was a smash at the NY International Fringe Festival, went to Off-Broadway, then Broadway, all in one year, 2001. “It ran for four years,” Panepinto notes, “and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards in its opening season,” winning four, and gaining numerous other awards.

RTC’s “Urinetown” explodes onto the stage with the energy of 28 cast member singing, acting, and dancing to their fullest. “I would say about half of (the cast) are new to the RTC, partly because this show tends to draw performers due to its creative openness,” Panepinto said. Together with a massive, vibrantly lit set, spirited dance numbers and original but instantly memorable music all immersing the audience, the world of the show becomes a very real place.

Panepinto recalls being introduced to “Urinetown” nearly 20 years ago through the OLG Youth Theater Company.  “I was cast in my first ever lead role in a musical. I fell in love with it instantly and was drawn to its incredibly smart message masked behind a lot of objectively stupid humor,” he said.

About RTC’s “Urinetown,” he says, “The cast is incredible. I’ve never worked on a production where every single person who auditioned could have been cast in their intended role. Making casting choices at the beginning was almost impossible. Our ensemble is wildly talented. They’re all bringing such life to the world and really shining beyond expectation.”

Every cast member works exceptionally hard at shifting from high, often subtle, drama to unexpected comedy to outright just-short-of-slapstick farce and back again. Each brings a creative and distinct character, right down to makeup and costumes, to the stage. Panepinto encourages them to “create their own characterizations” and stage movements, giving “the performer ownership over everything that they do, and it presents a more solid, fun, genuine experience for the audience.”

“Urinetown” incorporates every­thing from gospel (“Run Freedom Run”) to jazz to movie musicals (“Mr. Cladwell”), ballads (“I’m Not Sorry”), art musicals (“It’s A Privilege To Pee”) to light opera, near rhythmic rap (“Cop Song”) and beautifully sung duets, like “Follow Your Heart.”

But like the best musical parodies, its music is strong enough to stand solidly on its own. The thunderous “Act One Finale” builds like an opera filling the theatre as every cast member swarms on stage, powerfully singing multiple parts. But likewise, the soft, simple, and poignant “Tell Her I Love Her” will bring tears.

“Our musical director, Paolo C. Perez, has such a clear vision for the intention of the music in our show and is going to really surprise our audience with what’s possible using a comparatively small (number) of musicians,” director Panepinto said.

Like its music, RTC’s “Urinetown” is also bursting with dance numbers. Here it stands well and firmly with the best of RTC’s widely known and well-loved musicals. Also, like its music, audiences will find high-energy playful nods to “Fiddler on the Roof,” “West Side Story,” “Les Misérables,” “Cabaret” and more.

“Our choreographer, Cassaundra Reed, is an expert, bringing such life and passion to dance numbers, ostensibly turning, what is not typically known as a dance heavy show, into a tour de force of dance,” Panepinto said.

“My team is unique as it’s made up of almost entirely first timers at the RTC,” Panepinto continued, noting the new leading roles Reed, Perez and assistant director Brian Sadowski have taken on. Sadowski, a veteran of the RTC but a first timer on the production side, has surprised even himself with how creative and inspiring directing can be” and is “succeeding in spades.”

Even more amazingly, due to theatre availability issues, this production has come together in just two-thirds of the normal rehearsal time.

“Urinetown” satirizes a wide range of things like “the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, and municipal politics.” It’s also “a cartoonish comedy that pokes fun at other Broadway shows. It’s heavy and it’s light. It’s comedy and its tragedy. It’s joyful and it’s scary,” Panepinto says. “I like to hope that our audience will leave the theater thinking. And if they don’t, I hope they enjoy the fun dancing.

“I would say come in with an open mind. It’s no doubt a strange show, I However, it’s hilariously funny. The opening of the show pokes fun at how ‘Urinetown’ is an off-putting title. If you are willing to laugh AND listen, there’s a lot to take out of it!”

 Photos by Gabrielle Mangano and Dan Guarino.

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