Alabama does a double take: ‘Urinetown: the Musical’ hits home twice

By on April 24, 2014
Photo from UAB Department of Theatre http://www.uab.edu/cas/theatre/

UAB has many branches that are covered up, cut off or ignored by the tree as a whole. One of those hidden branches is UAB Theatre.

I was thrilled beyond belief when I found out UAB Theatre was going to close their 2013-2014 season with “Urinetown: the Musical.” I was even more excited when I heard UA, our parent, was also putting on “Urinetown” just a week after UAB.

Needless to say, I went to both productions.

Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman are the masterminds behind “Urinetown,” and, boy, do they know what they’re doing. The script, music and lyrics for “Urinetown” are damn near perfect and its self awareness drives the comedy. It’s quirky with a great concept: a water shortage causes the Urine Good Company (UGC) to charge people to use public amenities. If anyone asks what this show is about, say “it’s a metaphor.”

It’s one of those shows that audience members can tell that the actors are truly enjoying themselves and their roles.

Perhaps this was most obvious for the actors playing Office Lockstock, who also serves as the musical’s narrator. UAB’s Kyle Hulcher and UA’s Chris Bellinger both took the challenge head on and nailed the part.

On the whole, I enjoyed our performance better. (And I’m trying not to just be bias.)

UAB’s cast was really strong, whereas UA’s cast had more weak points (not weak acting, but weak characterization, if that makes sense). Something about UA’s portrayals of Ms. Pennywise, Hope Cladwell and Hot Blades Harry rubbed me the wrong way and I still can’t put my finger on why.

Pennywise was played like a butch Ms. Hannigan and Hot Blades Harry was an over the top Eddie Izzard impersonation with a little more I-should-be-in-an-asylum.

As someone who has had experience building sets, I take immediate notice to the set layout when walking into the house before the show.

Walking into the Sirote Theatre was like walking into the world of Urinetown. The size of the Sirote Theatre was just perfect for the intimacy that UAB Theatre forged in their production. However, UA’s Marian Gallaway Theatre in combination with their set design, isolated the audience, the characters and the action.

When scenes took place at Public Amenity No. 9, it was center stage action. Of course, this is natural- the issue with charging people to urinate is the central conflict in the show, it ought to be front and center.

UA’s Public Amenity No. 9 was so far stage left, that I had to turn my head quite a bit just to see. By using the wings like that, it created a lot of dead space in the center of the stage in terms of set.

When you put a bridge in the middle of the stage and throw your orchestra behind it, your set only works horizontally. UAB used the stage horizontally and vertically.

The orchestra, lights, bridge and flies used the height of the stage to their advantage.

*Spoiler alert for anyone who missed the show and don’t want it to be ruined*

Two of the best things UAB did during the show was a result of a tall set.

When (here’s the spoiler) Bobby is pushed off of the building, UA’s Bobby Strong just got on his knees and crawled away in a blanket of fog while dramatically dragging out “NOOOOOOOOO.”

Horizontal.

When UAB Bobby Strong is pushed, Jake Hemminger delivers the dramatic “NOOO” while the stage darkens and a cartoon Hemminger look alike slowly falls through the air.

Vertical.

*end of spoilers*

Photo from theatre.ua.edu

Photo from theatre.ua.edu

I wish I could say that I’m done being hard on UA, but I’m not.

I was thoroughly disappointed with their use of spot lights. I get why spots are used- they direct the audience’s focus and they allow singer or dance soloist the literal spot light.

Rather than enhancing the performance, the use hindered it. It furthered the isolation.

There was a time or two that the spots really worked in the show’s favor, but as a whole it distracted from parts of the play when the background action is just as important or comical as the main action.

Other than the spot lights, UA’s production had a gorgeous array of lighting designs that fit with the tone of each number.

Sadly, I feel the need to include a review of the audience (that’s strange, isn’t it?). UA’s audience was small because it was the Sunday matinee, but it was full of laughter and enthusiasm.

UAB’s audience was full of laughter, too, but also of irksome theatre goers. The couple beside me and the group behind me talked throughout the performance and at the top of each act, people came in late, causing everyone to stand up and distract from the action on stage.

As far as talkers go, don’t come to a show if you’re going to talk through it. It’s not only rude and distracting for your other audience members, but it’s entirely disrespectful to the people in the performance who have worked and rehearsed for hours and hours just to entertain you.

And for the people who came in late, if you pay money to see something, then you should be mindful of the times to get there. Also, the UAB Ambassadors that let late comers go ahead to their seats need to be trained to hold them in the back of the house because when an entire row of people have to stand up to let one or two people in their center seats, I can’t even count how many people you’ve distracted, annoyed and frustrated.

Props to UA theater goers who know the proper etiquette.

 

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