Urinetown is hardly a waste

QMT packs a heavy punch with the edgy and deliciously jazzy Urinetown, now playing at Convocation Hall.
QMT packs a heavy punch with the edgy and deliciously jazzy Urinetown, now playing at Convocation Hall.
Photo supplied by Katherine Belyea
Slick costuming complements the acting skills of Urinetown’s cast members.
Slick costuming complements the acting skills of Urinetown’s cast members.

Theatre Review: QMT’s Urinetown @ Convocation Hall, Jan. 11-15

Anyone who likes their musicals with a healthy dose of jazz hands won’t be disappointed with QMT’s new production of Urinetown. Whether or not you’ve heard of the musical, you’ve surely seen the Port-a-Potty outside the JDUC (a brilliant piece of publicity by publicity manager, Gordon Chan), and those looking for a show that’s a little edgier than the rest have come to the right place.

While all great musicals tend to involve the use of those sassy waving hands, few also incorporate toilet brushes. Set in a city that has outlawed the use of public toilets, people pay to pee in filthy urinals and live in fear of being caught by the police and sent to the mysterious Urinetown. These fears don’t stop the cast from dancing, however, and the musical’s frequent dance numbers are creative and entertaining. Choreographer Keren Shilling’s work is especially impressive in the second act, where numbers like “Snuff That Girl” can put you on the edge of your seat. The dancing involved in some musicals is often no more than a little soft shoe and a couple hand waves, which makes the intricacy of Urinetown’s choreography all the more surprising and enjoyable. The skilled cast also deserves credit for making every movement onstage seem effortless, whether it be spinning around pieces of the set, or leapfrogging over each other. Urinetown’s main chorus, consisting of Michael Ceci, Rebecca Jess, Jeff Diodati, Kristin Rodgerson, Paul D’Alessandro, Kat Sandler and Christina Chao, is one of the strongest choruses to appear onstage at Queen’s in recent memory, and director Rachel Slaven’s casting is superb. Diodati and Sandler especially deliver standout performances both vocally and physically, and their larger involvement in the beginning of the second act is a treat to watch.

Slaven’s quality casting isn’t limited to the chorus—each lead in Urinetown seems at home in his or her roles, most notably Erick Calder as the musical’s villain Caldwell B. Cladwell. Calder certainly seems comfortable in a top hat, and his lively approach to the role of arch-villain keeps the musical’s often intentionally clichéd moments from seeming stale. His performance in the number “Mr. Cladwell” is reminiscent of a terrible Las Vegas showcase, and other chorus members Andrew Dixon, Dana Kaluzny, Adam Sproat, Ali Bachert and Trish Clyen are hilarious in sequins.

Actor Danny Mahoney, as the young hero Bobby Strong, also delivers a performance that skillfully walks the line between charmingly corny and gratingly sappy, though his abilities do not become truly obvious until the second act. Mahoney’s number “Run, Freedom, Run!” is a hilarious gospel-inspired performance, and while his voice seems to waver at times during the number, his physical performance and comic timing are hard to ignore.

All vocal performances in the production are well amplified and the sound remains crisp and clear throughout most of the musical, save a little feedback during some of the quieter interludes. Vocal director Rob Kempson has done an excellent job of pushing the cast to deliver their best, and the powerful voices of female leads Courtney Evans and Meredith Slack often fill the entire room. Slack’s vocal range is especially impressive, as evidenced in numbers like the first act’s “It’s a Privilege to Pee.”

Though he doesn’t spend much of his time on stage singing, another very strong vocal performance can be found in Sef Wood’s portrayal of the musical’s unofficial narrator, Officer Lockstock. Wood has a commanding voice and presence onstage, and his asides to the audience are brisk and charming. At points towards the end of the first and second acts when the action begins to drag, it is often Wood’s remarks to the audience that re-energize and re-focus the viewers. One of the best parts of this year’s QMT production is the strong characterization behind each role. Assisted by Jen Goodine’s intricate costuming and Mike Walker’s beautiful lighting design, every actor has created a fully realized, if occasionally hokey, personality for his or her character and the result is a production which is consistently entertaining, regardless of who is on stage. Actor Matt Donovan, as Officer Barrel, is great fun to watch, and his lack of lines is offset by a physical performance that is often so engaging it can distract one’s attention from the rest of the action.

The real humour of Urinetown lies not in the cheesy parts of its dialogue, or the over-the-top collective reactions of the cast every time a “surprise” is revealed. Instead, it’s found in the tiny details of any given scene, whether it be Donovan’s absurd dancing in “Cop Song,” Calder’s constantly arching eyebrow, or Mahoney’s encounter with a little concrete. What really leaves the audience laughing is the subtleties of these actors’ performances, a credit to Slaven’s smooth direction and the skilled efforts of every cast member. The cast have rehearsed this musical since early in the fall, and their hard work is evident on stage.

Urinetown is a modern musical whose success depends not on intricate set designs or complex staging, but rather the sheer skill of the actors involved, and this QMT cast is full of talent.

QMT’s Urinetown runs Jan. 11-14 at 8:00 p.m. and Jan. 14-15 at 2:00 p.m. in Convocation Hall, located on the second floor of Theological Hall.

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