The Privilege of Peeing

The curtains of the Murray Kahn Theater opened to a grim color scheme of yellow and black, topped with a garbage green brick wall that read “Public Amenity #9,” the most disgusting urinal in town. The arrangement of set pieces was intentionally messy, setting a backdrop for the varying levels of chaos that would ensue for the duration of the show.

The Stuyvesant Theater Community (STC)’s 2017 spring musical comedy, “Urinetown,” can only be described as a brilliantly orchestrated disaster. From atrocious, mismatched outfits to the use of toilet paper as twirling ribbons, impeccable choices were made in all departments to capture the crooked, chaotic universe of “Urinetown.” The show, directed by seniors Enver Ramadani and Dennis Ronel and sophomore Kareena Singh, ran on May 31 and June 2-3, and made for one of the most impressive STC shows in a while.

“Urinetown” is set in a fictional town that has suffered from a 20-year drought, which has led to the privatization of all of the toilets in town. The toilets, or filthy public amenities, are controlled by the Urine Good Company (UGC), led by the villainous Caldwell B. Cladwell (sophomore Adam Elsayed). People do their business on a pay-to-pee basis, and if they don’t comply, they get exiled to a penal colony called Urinetown.

The cast is split between a ragtag team of poor, angry townspeople and the people in charge. The juxtaposition between the poor protagonists and the powerful antagonists is written as an extreme cliché, and the STC cast successfully conveyed the “heroes vs. villains” trope. However, as a show that routinely breaks the fourth wall and interacts with the audience in a sketch comedic manner, “Urinetown” is far from a mere cliché. Throughout the show, the lines between hero and villain are blurred through heartwarming and heart-wrenching plot twists followed by exaggerated ensemble reactions.

The intimidating, rule-enforcing Officer Lockstock (senior Leith Conybeare) opened the show with a spine-chilling monologue detailing the town’s unfortunate situation. Lockstock was soon joined by adorable, doe-eyed Little Sally (senior Nadia Filanovsky), who routinely made quips about hydraulics and remarks that broke the fourth wall, such as, “This isn’t a happy musical.” Little Sally was able to bring out the softer side of Officer Lockstock, and the heartwarming rapport between Coneybeare and Filanovsky was one of the highlights of the show.

The two shined onstage individually, as well. Coneybeare hit every comedic beat and nailed the many complex layers of Lockstock’s character. In “Too Much Exposition,” her gorgeous voice rang through the auditorium. Likewise, Filanovsky thoughtfully portrayed Little Sally’s character arc, leading up to a breathtaking performance for her grand solo in “Tell Her I Love Her,” where her powerful Broadway belt truly packed a punch.

Another standout performance was senior Jessica Sparacio’s Penelope Pennywise, the rigid, unforgiving woman who runs Public Amenity #9. Sparacio captured both the rough edges and the raw emotion of Pennywise with a mind-blowing attention to detail, from her aggressive physicality to the way she spat on every “p” in “It’s a Privilege to Pee.” Alongside Sparacio’s stellar acting were her unbelievable vocals. A bona fide mezzo belter, Sparacio hit the song’s high notes with ease.

However, these three were only several of the great performances in “Urinetown.” Elsayed’s portrayal of the malevolent Mr. Cladwell was hilarious and entertaining, and junior Travis Tyson’s rendition of Pennywise’s loveable, fresh-faced assistant Bobby Strong carried some of the show’s most emotional moments.

Even the smaller characters, who spent most of their time in the ensemble, stole the show for their small moments in the spotlight. Freshman Victoria Wong, as the poor, pregnant Little Becky Two-Shoes, hobbled around stage with an amazing presence. Senior Jenna Bawer was also a natural onstage as Hot Blades Harry, and her energy was a joy to watch.

While “Urinetown” boasted countless spectacular individual performances, the characters lacked cohesiveness as an ensemble. It often felt as if the actors were basking in the spotlight when they should have been reacting to each other, especially during moments of dialogue. As such, certain relationships that are pivotal to the “Urinetown” plot were underdeveloped, a particular example being the romantic relationship between Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell (senior Lillian Carver). While both Tyson and Carver were evidently talented actors, they lacked chemistry as a couple.

For the most part, the show’s ensemble didn’t have this problem. However, some of the smaller characters singing alongside the ensemble were mic’d while the rest of the ensemble wasn’t, and this ruined the sound balance in several songs. “Urinetown,” like many musical comedies, is somewhat of an ensemble-driven show, and the wealth of energy and talent in the ensemble’s songs and dances is a large part of what made this such a successful production.

Another particularly impressive element of the show was the creativity and attention to detail in the use of props. From toilet plungers to toilet paper, many common household items were used for things other than their intended purposes.

The layout of papers and cash-filled suitcases on Mr. Cladwell’s desk perfectly brought about the atmosphere of a corporate office, and during the big protest at the end of Act One, the large, messily constructed picket sign reading “FREE THE PEEPL” encapsulated the unique humor of the show. The lighting, costume choices, and the insanely talented band were also artful and professional, contributing to the unparalleled immaculacy of this production.

The show closed with an uplifting, bluesy performance of “I See A River,” where Carver’s fluid vocals and warm timbre shined. The beautiful music was paired with a classic, corny epilogue narration of what happened to the characters after the story ended. The epilogue was delivered in a wonderfully cringy manner, reminding the audience that “Urinetown” is an emotional rollercoaster of pure satire—a difficult musical to nail, but one that, for the most part, STC successfully did.

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