Urinetown is one of my top-five-favorite musicals, due to the many songs with memorable, singable melodies by composer/lyricist Mark Hollmann and lyricist Greg Kotis, as well as Kotis' sharply funny, self-referential book. Unfortunately, I was almost immediately disappointed with Quad City Music Guild's production of the show during Wednesday's final dress rehearsal, because the first full minute of director Heather Beck's staging had the ensemble cast frozen in place (and for what actually felt like two to three minutes) during the overture. Yet while my heart sank seeing this dull, uninteresting start to such a creative piece of musical theatre, thankfully, once the overture ended, I wasn't disappointed at any other point during Music Guild's presentation.
Instead of employing an over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek approach to this story about a dystopian future in which everyone must pay to answer the call of nature (or suffer legal consequences), Beck treats the material with sincerity. Her cast consequently takes a realistic, believable approach to their fairly one-dimensional characters, and for me, this worked. While Urinetown's satire may be less obvious here, it's still present, and in a much more subtle fashion. For example, Abbey Donohoe's Little Sally could be exaggerated, forgivably, as a wide-eyed, high-pitched, hopeful little girl portrayed by an adult. Donohoe, however, plays this child - a girl who interacts with John Antonin Dieter's Office Lockstock in a narrator capacity - as a sort of blend between The Addams Family's Wednesday and Beetlejuice's Lydia Deetz: angsty, sober, and dark, and the interpretation succeeds. Instead of mocking the political, societal, and economical "rich versus poor" message at the core of the story, Donohoe's Little Sally is the voice of reason in a ridiculous situation.
Dieter, however, was the scene-stealer for me, especially during his "Cop Song" rap duet with David M. Miller's Officer Barrel. To be fair, there are larger musical numbers featuring most of the cast - and choreographer Kathy Schutter's finest work - such as "Run, Freedom, Run" and "Snuff That Girl." But "Cop Song" was the biggest show-stopper, and elicited the loudest applause from Wednesday's audience. Dieter, as the story's main legal authority, balances humor with a threatening tone as he flits in and out of narrator mode, and is hysterical while doing his fair share of carrying Music Guild's production.
It's Andy Sederquist's Bobby Strong, though, who is the tale's central character: the young man who, after his father (Mark Ruebling's charmingly odd Old Man Strong) is arrested for public urination, starts a rebellion against the corporation that charges people for the right to pee at a public amenity. Sederquist is not only in excellent voice, but also endearing in his portrayal of Urinetown's hero, and Bobby's love for Callen Brown's Hope Caldwell - daughter of Urine Good Company CEO Caldwell B. Caldwell (Mark McGinn) - is smartly played as more of an infatuation, which is appropriate given the brevity of their relationship. Despite Hope's obliviousness, Brown, too, proves charming, especially for the character's growing discovery of the of truth behind her family's business dealings.
Dressed in multiple, albeit appropriately drab, colors by costume designer Cathy Marsoun, the ensemble is almost as interesting to watch as the main characters. Each actor in the chorus brings a personality to his or her background figure, offering something eye-catching to watch if you notice them acting beyond the spotlight. And scenic designer Kevin Pieper's set is equally fascinating, resembling the backsides of adjoining city buildings with broken windows, and a shared balcony that looks like a fire escape running between them.
Also noteworthy are Valeree Pieper's beleaguered, tired-of-customer-service caretaker Penelope Pennywise; Tom Naab's professional, hard-hearted Mr. McQueen, Caldwell's right-hand man; and Ian Sodawasser's hotheaded Hot Blades Harry, the rebel intent on hanging Hope when she's held hostage by the rebels. Overall, I enjoyed Quad City Music Guild's Urinetown quite a bit, appreciating Beck's sincere approach and the humor with which the cast present their satirical material. The title may be off-putting, but this is a March musical that's not to be missed.
Urinetown runs at the Prospect Park Auditorium (1584 34th Avenue, Moline) through March 29, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)762-6610 or visiting QCMusicGuild.com.