feeling flush at CTC's urinetown. Dystopia, the opposite of utopia, is not an uncommon a sight in American drama. Think of plays such as Waiting for Godot and films such as Bladerunner. Think of the spectacle of the current Bush administration. Briefly. My point is, Americans conscious of the forces that have spawned such work would hardly expect a drama titled Urinetown: The Musical (UTM) to paint a vision of paradise. So, the fairest question that can be put to The Cascades Theatrical Company's current production of UTM (playing at the Tower Theater) is: "How well does it paint its particular vision of dystopia - given the expressive possibilities of the stage, as opposed to the screen, and of musical comedy, as opposed to, say, 'straight' drama?"
Urinetown: The Musical is a Tony-winning work that, according to Wikipedia, "rejects musical theatre convention, parodying . . . shows such as Les Misérables . . . and West Side Story." Pu-leez. UTM's book, like "Les Mis's," pits have-nots against haves, and, like West Side Story's, heightens dramatic conflict to the plane of life and death. But when leads Bobby Strong (Ricky Johnson) and Hope Cladwell (Briana Jayne Hinchliffe) harmonize unreservedly about "love," "peace" and "tomorrow," what's "shattered," if anything, is the pretense that even such a hoary convention as poor-boy-and-rich-girl-meet-and-fall-in-love are interrogated, much less demolished, by UTM.
Even less adventurous and, given the haves against have-nots subject matter, unpardonably less unconventional is the music. The villain who owns all the toilets in the land and who citizens must pay to relieve themselves may well be taken to symbolize "corporate capitalism, social irresponsibility, [and] bureaucracy" (Wikipedia). But I can't see how greater "class consciousness" or even loathing of The Bad Guy can be prompted in viewers today by the flagrantly up-tempo duple meter- and conventional show tune melodies UTM makes The Poor sing. ONE-two, ONE-two, ONE-two, ONE-two-the instrumentation dominated by a tinkly little piano. Can you hear it?
Why do Broadway composers persist in resisting rock 'n' roll sonorities or even the 4-4 meter of its predecessor, the song of the subjugated, the blues? When will musical music stop defining itself as not-rock. UTM's outstanding exception is a Gospel-style rabble-rouser, "Run, Freedom, Run," sung on church choir-type risers by the show's aptly costumed rabble. ("Props" to costume designer Shawn Akacich). With rebel leader Bobby leading the "rabs" as if he were an evangelical choir director so sanctified to be on the verge of speaking in tongues, this number brought down the house opening night. And it was authentically parodical, the troupe's performance of it oscillating skillfully between respectful imitation of Gospel musical form but also "sending up" its excesses.
Johnson performs admirably as leading man. He can sing and act, as can his counterpart Hinchliffe, who may own the best pipes in the company (and who, alas, is leaving Bend). She's gifted with sharp comic timing as well. Two supporting players, Ricky Minder (as Little Sally) and Mary Kilpatrick (as Bobby's Mom, Josephine), also distinguish themselves with the frequently "lol" expressiveness of their arms, legs, poses and face-work. The troupe deploys all those assets in Sarah Hall's capable choreography. In sum the performances surmount the material.
So, go - not for social revelation any more than I'd say, "Go," to watch public urination. Go to hear Rick and Briana sing and see Ricky and Mary move. Go to show producer wanna-bes that substantial musical theatrical plays can draw in Central O.
You're in town. Go.
Urinetown: The Musical
Directed by Brad Hills. Book & Lyrics by Greg Kotis. Music & Lyrics by Mark Hollman. 7:30pm Fri. May 9, Sat. May 10; 2pm Sunday, May 11. $25 adults; $20 for seniors & students. Tickets at the box office, 541-317-0700, or online at www.towertheater.org