Off-Broadway: `Urinetown’

Corrections or additions?

This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the June 20, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Off-Broadway Review: `Bat Boy’

Ask a Broadway smart aleck the question "What is

satire?" and the answer has traditionally been "It’s what

closed last Saturday night." If this is no longer the case on

Broadway where the unsubtle satires "The Producers" and

"42nd

Street" are gargantuan hits, it is also no longer the case

Off-Broadway

where two offbeat satirical musicals — "Bat Boy" and

"Urinetown"

— are similarly delighting capacity audiences. "Urinetown"

is already set to move on to Broadway in August.

Just in case you happened to pick up the tabloid Weekly World News

instead of U.S. 1 Newspaper at the supermarket one day in the early

1990s, you would have come across a sensational story about the

shocking

discovery, in a West Virginia cave, of a creature, half-man half-bat.

As fate would have it, collaborators Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming

(book) and Laurence O’Keefe (music and lyrics) did pick up that

tabloid,

and decided that the oddities and absurdities of the story had all

the elements for an engaging musical. Certainly not since the

gleefully

gory "The Little Shop of Horrors" refreshed the shlocky

grade-Z

film of the same name with songs and dances, has there been a musical

to endear us so winningly to the bizarre and grotesque.

The plot spins around the attempts of a strange and unsettling family

to harbor, protect, and educate the creature, even as the

unsympathetic

and fearful townspeople appear more wantonly out for blood. At the

center of the action is Deven May’s fearlessly hyper-kinetic portrayal

of the craving-to-be-accepted freak. Characterized by pointy ears

and protruding rodent-like teeth, the ungainly Bat Boy is soon seen

as the most appealing figure among the residents in this dysfunctional

town aptly named Hope Falls.

Just slightly less dysfunctional is the family that assumes the role

of Bat Boy’s guardian and protector. This is after the sheriff

delivers

the frightened cave-dwelling oddity to the home of Thomas Parker,

the town veterinarian, for observation.

The small-scaled musical has only nine performers who essay a

multitude

of oddball characters. Most of them are expectedly batty and are

observed

as brainlessly misguided in their attempts to become cattle ranchers

in this rocky and cavernous terrain as they are in their vindictive

quest to capture and kill the mutant creature that has bitten one

of the locals.

Musically the show is propelled by a bright and lively score that

makes no apologies for its blatant and irreverent spoofing (in the

same manner as Mel Brooks with "The Producers") of a slew

of the most recognizable and familiar musical styles from "My

Fair Lady" to "Rent" to "The Lion King." Oldsters

as well as youngsters will easily catch the laugh-inducing references

as quickly as they will enjoy the dumbing down of the genre. Teens

will likely make this show a cult favorite. It’s a natural: the

musical’s

hero is an outcast, a misunderstood loner amongst people who will

not accept him for who and what he is. Even if he does prefer blood

to broccoli.

Kaitlin Hopkins is excellent as Meredith, Bat Boy’s sheltering mom

who, with the help of her teenage daughter Shelley, played with spunk

by Kelley Butler, helps Bat Boy cum Edward speak like a proper

gentleman

with the help of BBC language tapes. Without giving away the plot,

let’s say that a family secret is unearthed as well as an unexpected

villain. Under Scott Schwartz’s comically driven direction, "Bat

Boy" flaps amusingly around Richard Hoover and Bryan Johnson’s

eerily effective two-tiered setting. Three stars. You won’t feel

cheated.

— Simon Saltzman

Bat Boy , Union Square Theater, 100 East 17 Street, New

York. $55. Ticketmaster, 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.

Top Of Page
Off-Broadway: `Urinetown’

As long as spoofing musical styles and genres are the

theater season’s rage, composers Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics)

and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics) of "Urinetown" could not

have picked a more appropriate source for their irreverent and

wickedly

funny American fantasy than the sardonic, socio-political work that

inspired European collaborators Bertoldt Brecht and Kurt Weil

("The

Threepenny Opera"). Notwithstanding their generous nod as well

to Americans composer Mark Blitzstein ("The Cradle Will Rock")

and playwright Clifford Odets ("Awake and Sing"),

"Urinetown"

is also an homage to international musical theater history from

"West

Side Story" to "Les Miz."

When a severe drought creates a water shortage and all home toilets

are disconnected from the town’s dwindling supply, an evil and

mercenary

political mogul Caldwell B. Cladwell (played with unctuous and

sinister

delight by John Cullum) recognizes his opportunity to make a fortune.

His company initiates fees for using public facilities and imposes

fines and imprisonment for those who don’t pay.

While you may think that this is no cause for singing and dancing,

it doesn’t stop the citizenry from doing such, particularly Cladwell’s

daughter Hope (played with love-blinded innocence by Jennifer Laura

Thompson) and Bobby Strong (played with fearless bravado by Hunter

Foster), who leads the rebellion against those who would make it

"a

privilege to pee."

To its credit, "Urinetown," as directed with smarty-pants

brilliance by John Rando, with frenzied musical staging by John

Carrafa,

has its politicized tongue in its cheek even as it demonstrates how

the good guys, when given the chance, can make more of mess than the

bad guys. More to the point, the musical’s wickedly and funnily

deployed

agit-prop agenda is not to be taken seriously. On its own, the score,

which mocks romantic ballads, uplifting anthems, and whoopee-show

tunes, the inane plot, the bravura performances (notably Jeff McCarthy

as the droll narrator Officer Lockstock), and the whirling staging

are equal and excellent partners in this defiantly audacious "ode

de toilette."

Yes, the toilet, both private and public and its importance to society

frames an outrageous allegory about the freedom to pee for free and

what happens when public amenities become privatized. Three stars. You

won’t feel cheated.

— Simon Saltzman

Urinetown , American Theater of Actors, 314 West 54 Street,

New York. $25. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. To June

25. Opens on Broadway August 6.

Ticket Numbers

Unless noted, all Broadway and Off-Broadway reservations can

be made through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200 .

Other ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200;

Ticketmaster,

800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.

For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,

and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing

arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS

same-day,

half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47) is open daily,

3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for

Wednesday

and Saturday matinees; and 11 a.m. to closing for Sunday matinees.

The lower Manhattan booth, on the Mezzanine at 2 World Trade Center,

is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 11

a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Matinee tickets are sold at this location on the

day prior to performance. Cash or travelers’ checks only; no credit

cards. Visit TKTS at: www.tdf.org


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