With all of the political discourse associated with the 2016 presidential election, the Montclair State University Players chose a musical about urination to make sense of it all.
Last weekend, Players put on their charmingly grotesque production of “Urinetown,” a musical that parodies the justice system, big business and, of course, itself. The cast fused heavy subject matter with impeccable comedic timing. In general, the show was genuinely funny.
However, it’s easy for a show like “Urinetown” to miss the mark. Its blunt sense of humor makes it susceptible to coming off as too dry, and its strong political message can make it seem a bit pretentious. Mr. McQueen flashing his Grindr account at the audience mid-song and Officer Barrel’s ever-changing accent come to mind when thinking about how the cast made their characters unique to the show. In fact, these little personal touches made “Urinetown” much more enjoyable to watch — a perfect balance of class and camp.
The characters of Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell stood out, especially because these two can often come off as caricatures of themselves in most performances of the show. The actors had remarkable chemistry that made their transition from ridiculous to romantic seemed organic.
However, there were times where the adlib between these two dragged out, specifically during “Follow Your Heart,” where they acted like two awkward teenagers in the moments leading up to a kiss. That, along with a few other impromptu additions to the show, proved that something good can be damaging in excess.
With that being said, clarity was a big issue in this production. At times, there was so much going on that the harmonies didn’t sound exactly right, which hindered comprehension. During the Act I finale, awkward seating arrangements left castmembers’ backs turned toward entire groups of people at any given point.
Some songs, particularly the ones that require the ensemble to sing as well, should have been more mindful of how movement affected the quality and clarity of the songs, especially at such an integral moment of the show as the close of the first act.
While the use of wood planks as props (such as the one that had “cat” scrawled on it in sharpie) was endearing, using an iPad to depict Senator Fipp was not the best choice. As if Senator Fipp living in Caldwell Cladwell’s pocket wasn’t abstract enough, using the iPad was also detrimental because it led to identifying this character much harder than it needed to be.
Despite this, the second act went remarkably well. The cast did a really great job in building anticipation and strengthening their musical performance. Numbers like “Run, Freedom, Run!” and “Why Did I Listen To That Man” were arguably the best of the show.
For a production that doesn’t take itself too seriously while still being very serious, the cast and crew of “Urinetown” found a happy medium between the two. Through Miss Pennywise’s explicit breaks in character and Officer Lockstock’s blunt explanations of the plot, the cast found what was special about their characters, amplified them and strung them together to put on a satisfying show.