by Maille Smith – James Madison High School
Today, we are free to pee without paying a penny. But what if such was not the case? What if every individual was subject to a stringent and ever-rising urination tax? Throw in a bleak dystopian set, an energetic ensemble clad in rags, and a hilarious level of self-awareness, and you have George Mason High’s production of “Urinetown: The Musical.”
Written by Greg Kotis, “Urinetown: The Musical” premiered on Broadway in 2001, earning critical acclaim and three Tony Awards. Set in an industrial dystopia experiencing its twentieth year of drought, the musical centers around the effects of a corrupt corporation, Urine Good Company, and its urination tax policies on a poor community. When this community revolts against the company under the leadership of Bobby Strong, satire and comedy ensue. The production not only provides a plethora of conspiratorial audience exchanges and buoyant musical numbers, but also authentically addresses the nature of capitalism.
Performing a musical with heavier topics, the cast’s gleeful energy and singular personalities ensured an enjoyable performance. The juxtaposition between the colorful, complex ensemble and the industrial-gray set encouraged the audience to focus on character development and movement, especially on the cast’s excellent facial expressions and choreographed dances.
In a production with such a fine, often-crossed line between the real and the ridiculous, actors may find it difficult to navigate the intricacies of a believable performance combined with an appropriate level of audience-awareness. At George Mason High, actors handled their roles with remarkable dexterity. As Hope Cladwell, the sweetly idealistic daughter of Urine Good Company’s owner, Lydia Gompper’s clear and unwavering voice soars in “Follow Your Heart” as she realistically portrays innocent love. In contrast to her naivety, Blake Hopkins as her father, the money-obsessed Caldwell B. Caldwell, develops an icy cynicism in numbers like “Don’t Be the Bunny;” Hopkins also demonstrates impressive tap-dancing skill. On the other side of town, Justine Stolworthy as Little Sally and Charlie Boland as Officer Lockstock develop a lovable repartee as the principle Fourth-Wall-breakers. Stolworthy exhibits her vocal chops in numbers like “Tell Her I Love Her,” while never breaking character.
Vengeful posse’s of poor rebels and soullessly slick businesspeople enliven both the stage and the audience throughout the musical. Particular standouts include Senator Fipp (Austin Yoder), a bumbling executive hopelessly enamored with Hope Cladwell, whose jittery mannerisms and vocalizations left the audience hooting with laughter. On the rebel side, Tiny Tom (Miles Jackson) proved a crowd favorite with his perfectly timed comic physicality, while Hot Blades Harry (Michael Curtin) wowed in the energetically dark “Snuff That Girl.” Josephine Strong (Sarah Edwards), the grieving but ever-determined mother of Bobby, established a stunningly pure contrast to the satirical tone of the musical.
Although the production did suffer from a few technical issues, the majority of the musical proved technically well-managed, with impressively swift scene changes, suitable lighting choices courtesy of Ben Salak, very few microphone problems, and creative costuming by Delaney Theisz. In terms of lighting, Salak chose a scheme of blue lighting to symbolize hope and red lighting for a more sinister mood; such a color scheme fit well with the dominant moods of the musical. The rebels’ costumes appeared raggedy and varied, adding to the idea of the “haves versus the have-nots.”
Ultimately, George Mason High’s “Urinetown: The Musical,” though not without its flaws, addressed profoundly pertinent issues with an infectious energy that left the audience with a smile and a lot to contemplate. George Mason High delivered a powerful and enjoyable performance.