Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
The knife glints maliciously in the low light of an underground hideout, flashing as it comes to rest against the neck of a terrified hostage. It's a picture right out of an action film or dark drama-- and, while the scene is actually a snippet from Robert E. Lee High School's recent production of Urinetown, that's not too far from the truth. Urinetown the Musical made its debut on Broadway in 2001, written by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis as a satirization of American society. Its storyline follows young Bobby Strong, who, against the backdrop of a dystopian, ultra-capitalist society, has grown tired of laws requiring citizens to pay to urinate. Amidst digs at society, gratuitous fourth wall breaking, and a generous handful of melodramatic incidents, the young hero leads a group of revolutionaries in hopes of changing the world.
The leading cast of Urinetown acted as its propellers, their snapping energy moving the show from one scene to the next. Patrick Payne, as Bobby Strong, led the pack strongly, belting his heart out in upbeat songs like "Run Freedom, Run" and holding Bobby's fearless posture – shoulders back and arms tensed, ready for a fight – in confrontation scenes. He and Christina Springer (Hope Cladwell) admirably used precise physical choices to add humor to the show, particularly in their melodramatic embraces in "Follow Your Heart". Meanwhile, Springer's bright and bell-like mix, lovely roundness, and rich vibrato accompanied Payne's well-supported belt and fun styling, meshing into beautiful harmony.
All the while, strong supporters like Pennywise (Winta Habtemichael), Officer Lockstock (Leah Block), and Little Sally (Khue Duong) used strong physical and vocal choices to imbue life in their characters. Block easily took charge of the stage with a confident swagger and a sarcastic drawl that excellently emphasized her satirical lines, while her frequent scene partner Duong -- clutching a stuffed teddy bear, pouting freely, and maintaining a memorable character voice – stayed committed to her character. Habtemichael used bold body language, squatting low as she took the stage in harsher songs and thrusting her chest out in scenes of conflict, unafraid to give a strong physical backing to her forcefully delivered lines.
The ensemble served as an opportunity for students to make their characters their own – an opportunity they seized. The ensemble maintained impressive energy and commitment to character, as its members clutched their bladders, danced maniacally as they threatened Hope, or sang accusingly out to the audience. Overall, they did an admirable job of executing the sharp choreography by Amanda Cohen, Luna Alazar, and Kennedi Roland, resulting in snazzy stage pictures and tableaus with exciting levels.
To further immerse the audience in the world of Urinetown, Henson Doan executed an impressive and refreshing lighting design, using bold, shifting colors and special effects – such as a "rolling" spot to simulate a police siren – to emphasize the mood of the show. Meanwhile, detail-oriented costumes by Bailey Benson and Christina Springer– including leather work-belts and plungers for the custodians, a yellow tie for the CEO of Urine Good Company, and excellent imitation police uniforms – helped distinguish characters.
With impressive vocal talent, strong energy, and detailed technical elements to aid the audience's immersion in the story, Robert E. Lee High School's production of Urinetown was a delight to watch. Audiences looking for a witty, thought provoking show are in luck; Urinetown is sure to satisfy.
Lake Braddock Secondary School
"A bad title, even? That could kill a show pretty good," opines Little Sally to the audience in "Urinetown", a show which is nothing if not self-aware. If this kind of humor is for you, you're in luck. If you find the title off-putting, don't throw the baby out with the bath water or in this case, toilet- water. Despite first appearances, "Urinetown" is plumb full of great moments for everyone: beautiful vocals, timeless political commentary, and yes, some toilet humor.
The idea for "Urinetown" first came about in the late 1990s when lyricist Greg Kotis was traveling through Europe and thought, "What if I made a biting social satire centered around toilets?" From there, the show went on to a successful Broadway run (after being turned down by several production companies along the way), eventually winning 3 Tonys from 10 nominations. The musical tells the story of a city where a drought has led to an opportunistic businessman charging people for toilet usage, leading to many becoming impoverished and eventually exiled to the titular town when they cannot pay. Major players include: Bobby Strong, an assistant janitor who will lead a revolution with his strength; Mr. Cladwell, the aforementioned businessman whose hold on the city and conviction in his beliefs is ironclad; and Hope, Cladwell's daughter, who loves Bobby and might be able to bring peace through her... hope.
Robert E. Lee High School's cast plumbs the depths of these roles to wring out every laugh and hit every note. Patrick Payne brings a "gee whiz" enthusiasm to the role of Bobby Strong, perfectly capturing the likeness of a man who has big dreams but is not sure how to set them in motion. Payne puts in engaging work with all of his scene partners, especially Christina Springer, who plays Hope. The two have such a palpable chemistry in their Act 1 duet "Follow Your Heart" that you'll forget their characters barely know each other. Springer also does a particularly good job of selling her character's more over-the-top lines. As Hope's father, Caldwell Cladwell, Jacob Durish exhibits a sleazy charm, immediately cluing you in to the fact that this is a man who feels no turmoil over his actions. Durish gives his all to every malicious gesture and venomous line delivery. Leah Block kept up the flow of the play in the narrator role of Officer Lockstock. With crisp diction, exaggerated posturing, and a biting rapport with the cast, Block gave a memorable comedic performance in a role that a lesser actor would have just let serve as an exposition delivery device. Lastly, a revolution is only as strong as its members, and Urinetown's ensemble made it a strong revolution indeed. Every ensemble member created a unique character and displayed a thorough commitment to their bit in all their scenes.
On the technical side, a highlight was the costume work by Bailey Benson and Christina Springer. The use of distinct aesthetic color schemes made a character's background clear immediately upon seeing them. Student choreography also brought an extra layer of enjoyment to the big musical numbers, with the choreographers seizing the opportunity to create various interesting pictures throughout the show. Lastly, the show's stripped-down orchestra performed flawlessly with only five members, to the point that you would think the show was always meant to be performed that way.
If you're looking for a musical that mixes punchlines, politics, and pathos, Lee High School's production of Urinetown takes the throne: a play packed with passionate portrayals, pitch-perfect performances, and proficient production work. Truly, you're in for a treat.