Last Train to Morristown
This past Saturday evening I made what might be my last trip to see a Morristown Theatre Guild production. Urinetown: The Musical was all I hoped it would be: community theatre at its best. Community theatre at its worst, however, insured that this show was likely to be the Guild's last big hurrah. At curtain call, a very emotional cast gave Micah-Shane a deserved here's-to-you speech, and the audience concurred with a three-minute standing ovation.
And now for thank you, five's first guest review by guest reviewer Howard Y. Haffner:
Morristown Theatre Guild’s production of Urinetown: The Musical demonstrates the strengths of Micah-Shane Brewer’s directing abilities and was well worth my drive from Knoxville. Brewer’s Urinetown: The Musical is an example of how a well thought-out production can bring great music and a great script to audiences outside of major metropolitan areas and get them to enjoy the theatre experience. It was a good sign when I sat down in the theatre before the show and the person behind me was discussing with someone that he typically doesn’t like musicals but he was back for a second time to see this show.
Before the show started various members of the chorus were gradually taking the stage clearly needing to use “Amenity #9” and falling asleep on the stage. Officer Barrel played by Ryan Hubbard then brought the members of the band out through the audience and then up to the stage parading them in their striped convict attire. He locks them in the cage where they will be playing. This was a somewhat funny but mostly strange way to open the show and was not an indication of the great show to come. Fortunately, the opening number "Urinetown" was fantastic and did a great job getting the audience excited for the rest of the show. The energy of the cast was high and stayed that way through the first act.
Michael DeMar gave a wonderful performance as Officer Lockstock and moved the show along very well with his comedic timing. His voice was a bit weak at the beginning of the show but strengthened through the performance. His side kick, Barrel, played along beside him perfectly and Hubbard’s physical comedy kept the audience laughing throughout the show. The highlight of watching these two characters came during the number “Cop Song” which was hilarious. Allison Perfetti’s choreography added to the comedy of this song and the dancing came across as very well rehearsed, more so than other parts of the show. DeMar and Hubbard owned this song and had wonderful timing. This song could have gone horribly wrong in a community theatre with the challenging pacing, dancing and complicated lyrics, but these two actors delivered a flawless performance.
Penelope Pennywise, played by Susan Christophel, was terrific. Christophel brought to mind the screen performance of Queen Latifah as Mama in Chicago. Blend of sass, bitchiness and compassion made it easy for her to gain the audience’s sympathy when she needed it and she still was able to portray the tough shell of a woman who has seen the harsher side of life.
Ed Cunningham developed the character of Caldwell B. Cladwell perfectly. He created a CEO who doesn’t know that he should be self-conscious which is perfect for a man that is so powerful that he controls the city’s population as well as the politicians. Sound issues once again detracted from this otherwise great performance. Cunningham’s songs “Mr. Cladwell” and “Don’t Be the Bunny” were fantastic.
One of the strongest characters in the show was Little Sally played by Allison Perfetti. She gave a fantastic performance from her stage presence and character voice to line delivery. She embraced the Annie type character wholeheartedly.
The chemistry between Bobby Strong, played by Adam Malone, and Hope Cladwell, played by Emily Powers, was evident in the song “Follow Your Heart” and this created a bit of a sweet aspect for this show. While the script won’t allow for a great love story, these two actors brought us enough of one to fulfill that need in a musical. Malone seemed to have a nice voice from what I could hear but there were some sound issues and it was difficult to actually hear him. The same could be said for Powers who had no trouble hitting her notes, but did have some trouble supporting those notes giving her vocal performance a weak quality. Powers did, however, do a fine job portraying the character’s silly, spoiled school girl nature. The sound quality was an issue for the entire show and has been a problem with the other three musicals that I have seen in this theatre. I am not sure if the production crew is fearful of blowing the theatre’s speakers or if the problem comes from a lack of skill in running a soundboard, but it seriously detracts from the otherwise strong productions done by the Guild.
Gary Greenlee and Brewer’s lighting design complimented this show perfectly and even though some of the actors were unable to stay in their light, it was some of the best lighting I have seen recently. Frank Williams and Brewer’s set design is also worth noting and I applaud them for choosing a simpler set which did not overpower the performance of the actors. The set was not particularly fussing and the changes were done with relatively little delay.
Overall, I am extremely pleased to have seen this production of Urinetown: the Musical and the Guild should be very proud of the excellent work that they did on it. I am always impressed when a director can tame a production as large and complicated as this one and bring it to life with few flaws. It is reported that due to the Guild’s financial problems, this is Brewer’s final production in Morristown. Let’s hope that a Knoxville theatre is wise enough to snap up this great director so that his excellent talents are not lost from East Tennessee. Job well done.
Howard Y. Haffner