Feder '08 directs, choreographs 'Urinetown' at Bentley

by David Jiang | 11/24/08 4:13am

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by Courtesy of Josh Feder / The Dartmouth

But don't tell that to Josh Feder '08. His high school dream of directing and choreographing a full production of a musical came true this weekend at the Warner Bentley Theater at the Hopkins Center for the Arts.

"Urinetown" is anything but usual. Even the title raises obvious questions -- is this really a musical about pee?

Yes, but the off-color humor apparent in the title is only a part of what made "Urinetown" worth seeing: Its biting satire puts an interesting spin on timely environmental issues. In a town suffering a water shortage so severe that residents must pay a fee to use a public toilet, the penalty for non-compliance is a trip to Urinetown, a mythical place that Officer Lockstock says will be revealed in "one mighty cathartic moment somewhere in Act II."

Officer Lockstock and Little Sally act as narrators, breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging that they are part of a show, while also interacting with other characters.

These interactive elements of the play, similar to those featured in Broadway shows such as "Spamalot" (2004) and "The Producers" (2001), provide a connection with the audience from the first moment that Officer Lockstock comes through the back of the theater to welcomes the audience: "Well, hello there, and welcome to Urinetown. Not the place of course, the musical. Urinetown the place is ... well, it's a place you'll hear people referring to a lot throughout the show."

If ticket sales are any indication of a show's success, then "Urinetown" was a smash hit. Long lines curved through the Hopkins Center from the box office to the Hinman Boxes for more than an hour before the curtain rose on Saturday night, and tickets to the intimate 168-seat Bentley Theater sold out in minutes.

The stage featured a simple set that could easily transform from a filthy urinal to the headquarters of the corrupt monopoly that controls them, Urine Good Company. The seven-piece pit band -- piano, saxophone, clarinet, bass, drums and keyboard -- sat hidden on the right side of the stage.

The 24-person ensemble had many highlights throughout the night. Tyler Putnam '09, who played Officer Lockstock, commanded the show by expertly switching between his roles as both a villain and a narrator.

Stew Towle '12 brought a new definition to the word anger in his portrayal of UGC executive Caldwell B. Cladwell. Restrained to a wheelchair throughout the entire show, Towle's Cladwell was genuinely sinister in "Don't Be the Bunny," which began with him singing, "A little bunny in the meadow is nibbling grass without a care. He's so delightful as he hops for you. You say, 'Hi, bunny' and he stops for you. You pull your trigger and he drops for you!"

Kyle Lad '09, in his Dartmouth theater debut, played lead male Bobby Strong, a poor man who rebels against the unjust urination fines. Ladd hit his notes with ease, from the rousing "Look at the Sky," in which he convinces the fellow poor to join his revolution, to the absurd gospel parody "Run, Freedom, Run!"

Jocelyn Duford '11 played Little Sally, a young girl who knows too much for her own good. Always equipped with her stuffed teddy bear, Duford shined in a rare sad moment of the musical, singing an emotionally charged "Tell Her I Love Her," telling the people Bobby's last words. In a show filled with satire and farce, the song was a pleasant change of pace.

Other notable performers were Elise Hogan '09 as Hope Cladwell, the conflicted daughter of Caldwell B. Cladwell and Bobby Strong's lover, and Katie Farley '09 as urinal manager Penelope Pennywise. Tomo Berry '12, as Cladwell's assistant Mr. McQueen, won constant laughs with his physical humor right up until the finale, when he spontaneously changed into sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt. Michelle Shankar '12 and Andrew Rayner '10 stood out as members of The Poor.

The choreography is particularly strong in moments like the policeman line dance in "The Cop Song" and the "Les Miserables" send-up in the finale of the first act, when The Poor march for revolution, prominently waving a flag as they protest for their bathroom rights.

All humor aside, "Urinetown" speaks to our current environmental situation. This crisis is what could happen if we continue to take the environment for granted, the show says.

"I think after seeing the show something clicks and you're like, 'Oh my gosh, this could actually potentially happen,'" said Duford.

"It definitely gives you something to think about and to take away, even if it is just conserving water," she said.

"Urinetown" is the culmination of Feder's Dartmouth theater career, which has featured extensive acting, directing and choreographing. After graduation in December, he plans to work as a production manager at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Conn., and the New London Playhouse in New London, N.H. He then hopes to move to New York to continue performing and choreographing.

"People who have to do theater have to do theater," he said.

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