Northampton Press

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Theater Review: Civic gives Broadway the business

Wednesday, May 7, 2014 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

Civic Theatre of Allentown's production of "Urinetown: The Musical" takes care of business -- show business.

It's "the" show to see so far in the Lehigh Valley regional theater's year.

Civic Theatre's "Urinetown" is top-notch in directing, acting, singing, music and production. It's on par with what you'd experience in New York City or Philadelphia.

The show, weekends through May 18, is an experience. From the opening steady faucet drip-drip-drip and running stream of water by sound designer Helena Confer, to the closing exuberant chorus, "Urinetown" is a joyous, laugh-out-loud hilarious and, yes, uplifting production. It's tongue-in-chic.

Admittedly, the title was a turn-off. Even the creators of the self-referential musical, with music by Mark Hollman, lyrics by Hollman and Greg Kotis and book by Kotis, agree. One character notes that the show has a "terrible title."

The satirical show, which opened on Broadway in 2001 (receiving three Tonys), also has some really bad puns, to wit: the company that cornered the latrine market during the 20-year drought is: Urine Good Company.

"What kind of musical is this?" it's asked.

It's the kind of musical that sends up just about every musical, musical genre and Broadway convention imaginable, including "Guys and Dolls," "The Sound of Music," "West Side Story," "Fiddler on the Roof," "A Chorus Line," "Annie" and "Les Miserables."

For points of reference, "Urinetown" is "The Rocky Horror Show" meets "Little Shop of Horrors" meets "American Idiot." It's a Broadway show with punk-rock attitude.

Civic Artistic Director William Sanders, "Urinetown" director and choreographer, with co-choreographer Deena Linn, pulls out all the stops, leaving no dance step (Bob Fosse, especially) unturned, no bad pun unexploited, and no production opportunity missed (silent-film like asides, cinematic slow-motion movement, audience presentation-confrontation) in his ingenious, bold and innovative staging.

Music director Justin Brehm, keyboards, wisely places the five-piece pop-rock ensemble stage-rear, which helps with the sound balance. Set designer Jason Sherwood's minimalist set is imaginative. Hair and wig designer Kim Danish's work is always so realistic.

Choral singing by the cast of 28 (with nine Muhlenberg and two Northampton Community College students) is powerful.

Sanders has cast a terrific ensemble of some of the Valley's top thespians, some of whom have been on Civic's stage, as well as many newcomers.

Will Morris, Civic's and the show's technical director who is also lighting and costumr designer, in one of the lead roles as Officer Lockstock, has the angularity of a Keystone Kop and "Monty Python" Minister of Silly Walks, no more so than in "Cop Song." His narration, facial expressions and singing provide a solid through-line for the show.

Molly Caballero, a Muhlenberg College freshman theater-anthropology major in her Civic debut, is phenomenal as Little Sally. She imbues the wisdom of innocence and has a lovely duet, "Tell Her I Love Her."

Tracy Ceschin, a Lehigh Valley theater veteran, is outrageously funny and at her big-voiced best as Penelope Pennywise, including "It's A Privilege ... "

Brent Schlosshauer, in his Civic debut, as Bobby Strong, the male love-interest lead (not unlike Curly in "Oklahoma!") has a commanding stage presence and a voice to back it up in two fine numbers, "Look At The Sky" and " Run Freedom Run."

Morgan Reilly, a Muhlenberg College junior and one of the Lehigh Valley stage's leading lights, is delightful as Hope Cladwell. Reilly evokes a "Daddy's Girl" voice and a wink-wink, nod-nod persona. Reilly gets to showcase her voice in "Follow Your Heart," her duet with Schlosshauer, and really lets loose in the finale, "I See A River."

Kirk Lawrence-Howard, is a hoot as Caldwell B. Cladwell, especially in "Don't Be The Bunny."

Also outstanding in leading roles are Robert Torres (Senator Fipp), Tom Nardone (Old Man Strong) and Marie Ann Sutera (Josephine "Ma" Strong).

Other notables include Mercedes Tonne (Mrs. Millennium), Johnny Schaffer (Hot Blades Harry), Katie Brobst (Cee Ya Next Tuesday), Nina Elias (Little Becky Two Shoes) and Deena Linn (Soupy Sue).

"Urinetown" is zany, brainy and outrageously funny.

Don't wait. Reserve your seat now, so you don't have to stand in line.

"Urinetown," May 8 - 10, 15 - 18: 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. May 18, Civic Theatre of Allentown, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown. civictheatre.com, 610-432-8943