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Urinetown

Thursday, November 2, 2006
Matrix Theatre

Los Angeles, CA

John Hemphill   Bobby Strong   Kelly Lohman   Hope Cladwell
Matthew Ashford   Officer Lockstock   Rona Benson   Little Sally
Norman Large   Caldwell B. Cladwell   Amanda Carlin   Penelope Pennywise
Steven Connor   Senator Fipp   Larry Lederman   Old Man Strong
Rob Kahn   Officer Barrel   Steven Hack   Mr. McQueen
Vanessa Whitney   Little Becky Two Shoes   Liz Herron   Soupy Sue
Annie Abbott   Josephine Strong   Melanie Rockwell   Mrs. Millennium (replacement)
James Calvert   Tiny Tom   Robert Briscoe Evans   Robby the Stockfish
Mitch Stark   Hot Blades Harry   Michael Thatcher   Billy Boy Bill (replacement)
Emily Janice Card
Jean Kauffman
Sarah Lowe (swing)
James Cooper
Jason Lewis
  Ensemble        

(It was rather appropriate that this very small theatre only had one restroom.)

This was my second time seeing Urinetown, and I don't know if it's because I was more familiar with the show this time around, if it's the fact that it wasn't held in an outdoor theatre near an airport, or if it was because most of these actors are established and accomplished (many with previous or current recurring roles on TV). Perhaps a big part of it, too, was the fact that this was held in a small, intimate theatre with 99 seats, and the actors did not use microphones. Or that I sat in the front row.

Also since this was in a small theatre, the sets were scaled down and many modifications to choreography had to be made. (This is in contrast to the production I saw in San Diego where the choreography was almost identical to the Broadway production -- according to Norman Large.)

Anyway, I found this production hilariously funny, and the comedy was executed with excellent timing. It also helped that all 99 seats were filled. I don't think any of the comical moments fell flat, unlike San Diego where the humongous Starlight Bowl was only about 1/3 full.

Some of the funniest/most memorable moments:

Norman Large was a perfect Cladwell, largely because he was so well able to portray slimy greediness (very much like his Thénardier that I got to know so well in the 3rd National Tour of Les Misérables). I thought he was downright hilarious when I saw him San Diego, but I think he took it up a few more notches in this production, being a lot more animated and exuberant in his movements and dancing. He was so much fun to watch. (I kind of did miss the downright hilarious touch to Cladwell's deadly fall that he did in San Diego. In that production, he let out a long "aaaaaahhhhhhh" as he was falling, and midway stopped to take a deep breath before continuing his fall [which he did here]. But in San Diego, after he stopped screaming and you thought he was dead, there was a VERY long silence on stage. Then, just as someone started to say, "Now what?", Norman started screaming again for a while longer before he finally hit the ground. Ha ha.)

Rona Benson was a pretty good Little Sally, but she didn't have nearly the spunkiness that the Little Sally I saw in San Diego had. She also had a little difficulty singing the higher notes, especially in "Tell Her I Love Her" when she sang in duet with John Hemphill. But she still had a lot of attitude, encompassing both youthful innocence and righteousness that made her fit right in with the rebel poor.

John Hemphill was a very strong singer and actor, especially giving Bobby a very headstrong way at going about life. One thing I noticed, though, was that it didn't look very natural for him to "conduct" the "choir" of the ensemble in "Run, Freedom, Run" -- but it was still very amusing. He also managed to continue singing pretty well when he started coughing after inhaling his saliva at one point during the Act 1 finale, and aside from his facial expression showing he was struggling a little, you couldn't really tell as he was singing in counterpoint with Kelly Lohman.

Kelly Lohman is a lovely and strong soprano, with a very youthful quirkiness that reminded me a tiny bit of Jennifer Laura Thompson (original Broadway Hope Cladwell). She also had a very funny way of going about her lines that brought out the irony of the comic situations. She and John Hemphill paired well together, and "Follow Your Heart" was very sweet (as well as hilarious).

Amanda Carlin (who I thought looked familiar, and after finding out about the slew of guest TV appearances she's had, I best remembered her as Rachel's OB-GYN when Rachel was having Ross' baby) was a great Pennywise, and I especially liked how natural her urban accent was. For the most part, she had a great strong voice, except for a few times in "Privilege to Pee" where she had to belt some really high notes. A couple of them she didn't attempt to belt, and took it up to her head voice instead. But she has great stage presence that made her lots of fun to watch.

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In general, I love this show. It's so cleverly written, very witty, and thrives on the fact that it pokes fun at musicals as a genre, as well as poking fun at itself. Not to mention how they parody a number of other musicals while telling their story.

I also love the message that it sends, that our way of life is not sustainable, and that we have to remember that every action has a consequence. Despite my liberal political tendencies, I could see the difficult position that Cladwell was in. Yes, he was tyrannical in the way that he managed the public amenities, and used methods to exploit the poor and used profits to live in luxury. But he also did see the need to regulate the use of a precious commodity (in this case, water) and understood that the free use of it like Bobby and the rebel poor were fighting for would destroy the environment. In this way, this musical is also a little commentary on our political system and how the two sides in our mostly bi-partisan politics have valid arguments (well, to a point).