“RUN RIVER RUN” THE DROUGHT HAS NOT ENDED IN SAN JOSE, SJSU BRINGS A HIGH ENERGY CAST TO URINETOWN T
YOU ARE THE RIVER IF YOU CAN “HOLD IT” - THE WAIT LINE TO THE URINAL IS OPEN AT THE SAN JOSE HAMMER THEATRE
The drought is still in full swing in San Jose CA until May 5th at the Hammer Center for the Arts. The lines to the urinals are long and stressful this spring at the San Jose State University Theatre Department. The rousing production of three-time Tony Award-winning musical URINETOWN is hilarious and you will only want more. First produced at the NY Fringe festival 18 years ago as a one act, and then moved to off Broadway in 2001 as a full two act musical, and won instant praise. Music by Mark Hollmann and book and lyrics by Greg Kotis, whose satirical take on a musical that spoofs so many classics - including “Three Penny Opera” and “Les Mis”. Directed by the accomplished Kristen Brandt and fun choreography by the stylish Heather Cooper, and a craft team that meets the mega talent of his high energy cast. If you have put this entertaining musical on hold - it is now time to relieve yourself and join this talented cast at UGC (Urine Good Company) public toilets.
Director Brandt brings a large cast of 22 to the Hammer stage that sets this farce at maximum speed of laughs and corporate greed. This romp could easily be called TrumpTown, but the urge to relieve yourself still is the theme of this terrific musical that still is as fresh as today's daily headlines. The narrator and head Officer Lockstock, played by the accomplished Rishonah Siamu, holds this show together and opens the story with his deep baritone chops as the company sets the tone with the lively “Urinetown” chorus. Siamus’ voice is powerful, and his comedic timing is perfect, and heads this production with a professional flare. His sidekick is the show stopping Will Corkey as Officer Barrel. Officer Lockstock tells us from the get go, “this isn’t a very happy musical”. The characters are aware that they are in a musical. And from then on they perform with various levels of theatre styles, belting out big show tunes and turning in dance numbers that ring Fiddler to West Side Story expertly choreographed by Heather Cooper.
The drought is on and evil-corprate ‘Urine Good Company’ has passed restroom laws forbidding the right to pee without paying a tax. Those who do not pay for the privilege to pee are sent to a mysteriously ominous place known only as URINETOWN. The powerhouse and very entertaining Katelyn Chiappone plays Penelope Pennywise, who runs pee station 9. She sings “It’s a Privilege to Pee” with the company waiting in line to use her amenity. Chiappone has a big voice, brash talent; she has perfect comic timing and gets big laughs as the matron Pennywise, the lovable enforcer of the piss laws with a heart of gold.
The URINETOWN ensemble is vitalizing and each has a backstory that is somewhat authentic as they sing about the right to pee. The two top cops share a superb comic timing. Corkey and Simu steal the first act in the song and dance “The Cop Song” along with the other men in blue. The baby face Bobby Strong is the romantic socialist, who plans to rebel against his urine overlords. The boy, after seeing his dad dragged to Urinetown, stands up to the man.
Zack Goller plays the classic rebel but has trouble with some of his solos including “Look at The Sky” one of the first act athems. Goller misses the mark, yet the ensemble is keen and Choreographer Cooper keeps the cast jazz hands busy.
"I don't think many people are going to want to see this musical," a little girl tells officer Lockstock. That little girl, who is a brassy charmer named Little Sally, is played by the likable Shaelan Barber. She stands in for the everyman alongside handsome young Strong and keeps officer Longstock busy asking questions about the musical she is in. Barber with her sharp delivery, and a sweet camp performance makes everything she says a delight; an able comedic warrior on stage.
Bright eyed Bobby meets a girl named Hope, beautifully played by the talented Cristina Hernandez, whose father is the despicable Caldwell B. Cladwell, played by the infectious Jesse D Guzman, the villain of URINETOWN. As much of a devil as Caldwell is, Guzman is very likable in the Cole Porter inspired “Mr Caldwell”, featuring his sidekick Mr McQueen played by the dapper Caleb Levine, and the UGC office staff. The polished Franceen Loy plays the neurotic secretary and other parts, along with Daniel Lerma Hill as the weasel Senator Fipp. Talented Loy is featured with Guzman, and Levine, in the catchy dark song “Don’t Be The Bunny”.
Music director Gus Kambeitz brings an inspiring six piece orchestra to highlight “Privilege to Pee” featuring Chiappone and cast in the first act song that sets the theme. Choreographer Cooper, I can tell had so much fun with each song bringing her cast home to so many dance styles. Cooper’s dance highlight is also the “Act One Finale” that took us to every conflict we have seen in musicals since Oklahoma.
The second act opens with “What is UrineTown” and Andrea Bechert’s awesome three level set is major structure with steps and sliding poles. The UGC office is set on level two above the jail cell were the band plays. It is a maze of fun, and set to Stevens Manshardt dark and moody light scheme, with the bright green theme to show off the money greed offices of UGC, and the orange glow we get for URINETOWN. He also highlights “Cop Song” with just the marching blue dancers using flash lights to light the number; so well crafted.
The show stopping gospel number “Run, Freedom, Run” the talented cast shows confident appealing voices in this stunning foot stomper that will make you rise from your seat. The heart that steals Strong is affirmed by Hope, played exquisitely by Hernandez with her stunning beautiful voice, look and character. She sings her solo “Follow your Heart” with some sweet passion and a hope for a better life. The layered dresses and three piece suits for the office workers were designed by Cassandra Carpenter and Deborah Weber, the colors are earth tone and Bobby’s apron and toilet plunger are a perfect fit.
The witty Corkery as Officer Barrel is a giddy partner to Lockstock. His character is lovable and fun, in a Stan Laurel kind of way. He is brilliant playing second fiddle, while remaining equal as he pleases his cop boss. When he takes a chance on love, the result is one of the predictable arcs in the show, thanks to the delivery and set up by Corkery, and slam dunked by the tall proud Siamu. The supporting cast does not go unnoticed thanks to Brandt’s direction, the priceless Andre Guardado as Hot Blades Harry and Jessica Chui as Little Becky Two Shoes are a delight. Both are edgy riveting as West Side Story meets the sewer inhabitants of Paris in Les Miz. The lovable gifted Partick Fu charms this cast as Tiny Tom who pops in with Old Man Strong throughout the two hour show for a hilarious one liner. Fu is great at showing his comic skills and I look forward to seeing his future shows. Soupy Sue played by Kalyn Mckenzie is also a favorite character in the production as she tumbles in “Freedom Run” missing is her crutch and I think in some productions she is pregnant. She is a prime example that no part is too small to shine. The company kills it in “Snuff That Girl.”
The strong supporting roles continue with the finesse of Lauren Berling as Josephine “Ma” Strong. Angela Abonador, Lucas Domingo, Don Nguyen, Tony Richard Wooldridge, Simi Kattaura, Layla Alston, Aaron Ancheta, and Cody Nichols fill out the many other characters and are full throttle in “We’re Not Sorry” and the powerful final “I See A River”.
This URINETOWN is brilliantly constructed by a craft team of University staff and students. Including Fight Director local favorite Dave Maier, Producers Fred Cohen and Barnaby Dallas. Congrats to SJ State University for staging a terrific production which highlights the musicals dark wit while also showcasing its talented student cast. The San Jose State University Arts department provides the entertainment that would make the original creators proud. The opening night sold out crowd were on their feet at shows end. You need to run the Hammer Center for the Arts this spring, and get in line to use the urinals, and if you miss that window, then just sit and enjoy this fun romp through corporate greed and musical spoof fun.
San Jose State University Film and Theatre
SJSU School of Music and Dance Presents
Music by Mark Hollmann, book and lyrics by Greg Kotis
Directed by Kristen Brandt
Music Director Gus Kambeitz
Choreographer Heather Cooper
Must Close May 5th
The Hammer Arts Center
San Jose Calif
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes, one intermission
Tickets $20 for adults and $10 for students at the door
PHOTOS BY EMILY FONG
INTERVIEWS WITH SOME OF THE CAST OPENING WEEKEND (WITH NICO JAOCHICO)