Musical kicks off high-school season, tongue firmly planted in cheek
The company of “Urinetown” at White Plains High School strikes a pose. Photo by Tania Savayan/The Journal News.
Director Penelope Cruz could have chosen to stage “West Side Story” at White Plains High School this year.
Or “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Evita” or “Les Miserables.”
Instead, she chose to direct a musical that borrows elements from all those shows: the wickedly funny satire, “Urinetown,” which won three Tony Awards in 2002, and was up for best musical. (That honor went to “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”)
The story, by Greg Kotis, is a send-up of the musical form, with narration by Officer Lockstock, played at White Plains by senior Erynn McLeod, in a tongue-in-cheek, breaking-the-fourth-wall performance that keeps things moving.
In a futuristic age, severe water shortages have prompted the government to implement draconian preservation measures. The government has hired the corporate Urine Good Company (or UGC) to oversee pay toilets, or “amenities,” across the land.
Gross? Perhaps. Funny? To be sure.
Even as it borrows from all those aforementioned musicals, it’s not like any other musical. And it’s a long way from last year’s offering, “The Sound of Music,” says White Plains senior April Nuovo, 17, who plays the no-nonsense Penelope Pennywise, a woman who oversees a filthy Public Amenity No. 9.
“‘The Sound of Music’ is very familiar to everyone, with a family-friendly theme, while this one is darker,” Nuovo says. “But it talks about important things, like following your heart and doing what you know is right, sometimes even if that means overthrowing the government and seizing amenities.”
“The Lonely Goatherd” it’s not.
The songs, with music by Mark Hollmann and lyrics by Hollmann and Kotis, are bright and bubbly, even as they discuss bodily functions (“It’s a Privilege to Pee”) and doing awful things to enemies (“Don’t Be the Bunny” and “Snuff That Girl”). That juxtaposition leads to laughs.
“Urinetown” has one other thing “The Sound of Music” doesn’t: a lot of meaty roles for student actors. In “The Sound of Music,” if you’re not a von Trapp, there’s not a lot to do. In “Urinetown,” the ensemble is vital.
Last year, Nuovo was a party guest in “The Sound of Music.”
“I was on stage for a good 45 seconds,” she says, breaking out in a throaty laugh. “This is very different.”
As Pennywise, Nuovo takes orders from Caldwell B. Cladwell, played by junior Max Golden, 16. If Caldwell had a moustache, he’d twirl it.
“He’s larger than life, the epitome of what a big, greedy CEO is.”
Who is Golden modeling Cladwell after?
“The banks,” he says without skipping a beat.
Senior Isabella DeLisi, 17, plays Cladwell’s daughter, Hope.
Last year, as Leisl, she fell in love with Rolf the budding Nazi, against her father’s wishes. They sang “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” This year, as Hope, she falls in love with the rebel Bobby Strong (junior David Axelrod), against her father’s wishes. They sing “Follow Your Heart.”
“I think it’s super funny,” DeLisi says. “I love our blocking. I feel we’re comfortable enough with each other that it goes really well and we’re not afraid to be funny. We’re not letting high school affect it. We’re going full force on it.”
Axelrod says he like that what Bobby says makes a difference.
“His words are a call to action that changes lives, who we are and how we see people,” he says.
As the narrator Lockstock, McLeod is doing Cladwell’s bidding. She says playing a role traditionally played by a man makes for some different situations. When Lockstock flirts with Hope, it’s different when Lockstock is a woman. Likewise, when Lockstock’s partner, Officer Barrel, professes his love for the female Lockstock, it’s different than when the roles are played by two men.
Whether played by a man or a woman, or a 17-year-old girl in White Plains, Lockstock carries a nightstick that confers a level of authority.
“He’s the law,” McLeod says. “It’s fun to be him.”
“Urinetown: The Musical,” White Plains High School, 550 North St., White Plains. 7:30 p.m., Feb. 1, 2; 3 p.m., Feb. 3. $15; $5 students, seniors, staff. 914-422-2234. With: David Axelrod, Isabella DeLisi, Max Golden, Erynn McLeod, April Nuovo, Kyle Banks-Mobley, Melissa Cabrero, Maddy Gartenberg, Jason Michel, Alecia Spitz, Kyra Betheil, Nicole Carosella, Julia Crescenzi, Jennifer Gordon, Arielle Hazi, Sarah Lambert, Tyeese Melton, Rachel Morris, Erica Pope, Daniela Poppe, Kristen Reilly, Blair Sabol.
Here’s the Running Lines video, of some of the cast sharing their favorite lines from “Urinetown”: