COHOES — Sometimes a show comes along whose parts are greater than the sum, and — for my money — such is the case with “Urinetown.”
At intermission I heard someone say, “It’s very different”; her way, perhaps, of observing, “It isn’t ‘Oklahoma!’ or even ‘Rent’ but we’ll see how it pans out after intermission.”
Well, though it doesn’t completely pan out, there are enough satisfactions in director/choreographer Jim Charles’ fast-paced treatment of the script to make you return after coffee.
My opinion doesn’t square with that of Tony voters, who proclaimed the score, by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, and book by Kotis, the best of 2002. I think “Urinetown” attempts to be a social satire and a parody, which is one goal too many.
The script imagines a city beset by a drought, an ensuing water shortage, and a capitalist bully, Caldwell B. Cladwell (Shawn Morgan), who takes advantage of both situations by charging folks who need to use public restrooms (the only bathrooms left) a few cents: a fee to pee. Those who have no dough and elect to go in the bushes are arrested and sent to Urinetown, a strange and unsavory destination from which no one returns.
WHERE: C-R Productions, Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen St., Cohoes
WHEN: Through March 23
HOW MUCH: $35-$25
MORE INFO: 237-5858, www.cohoesmusichall.com
Cladwell (get it?) has the police, Officers Lockstock (Evan Teich) and Barrel (Alex Jones) — get it? — under his thumb, along with Senator Pipp (Charity Buckbee), bathroom matron Penelope Pennywise (Kayley Alissa Hinen), and his own daughter, Hope (Elizabeth Doyle).
The poor have Bobby Strong (Jon McHatton) on their side, and he partially succeeds in bringing about a social revolution.
The parody? Right off the bat, Lockstock and waif Little Sally (Taylor Lane Ross) talk about being in a musical, so this musical turns out to be a send-up of musical conventions.
When I think of social satire, I think of, among others, Oscar Wilde and Gilbert & Sullivan (which C-R Productions does so well): Wit abounds. When I think of parody, I think of the famous Carol Burnett “Gone With the Wind” lampoon: Silliness abounds. On Thursday night I just smiled and occasionally barked out a laugh.
Which is not to say that the production doesn’t succeed. There were a few shaky spots (tentative hoofing, an uncertain look, cautious vocal entrances), but they’ll improve during the run. I’m sure, too, that the pit band, under musical director Shoshana Seid-Green, will strike the right balance with the unmiked singers.
The ensemble has fun throughout, especially on “Snuff That Girl” and “Run, Freedom, Run.” Teich, who serves as narrator, is a confident and convincing performer, and he and Jones do right by “Cop Song.” Morgan and Ross have strong vocal chops, Hinen hits musical and comedic high notes, and Marc Christopher is a go-for-broke clown prince.
Doyle and McHatton create a charming “Dames at Sea” kind of moment in Act I (there’s a successful parody!) and make us pay attention whenever they’re on stage. If Doyle reminds you of Kristin Chenoweth, it’s because she’s that talented. McHatton’s Bobby is all good-looking testosterone, and McHatton is riveting in “Look at the Sky” and “Run, Freedom, Run,” his difficulty with the low notes notwithstanding.
I hope these two performers, in their C-R debuts, return soon.