Desperately seeking something to do this weekend sans Halloween-themed debauchery? Suffering October-withdrawal and looking to fill your monthly costume quota?
Urine You’re in luck! Musical Forum’s Urinetown is happening all weekend in the PW downspace.
You may know Urinetown from its 3 Tony Awards, or as the sole “U” answer in all ‘Broadway Musical by Alphabet’ Sporcle quizzes… just me? You may know musical theatre from its series of campy cliches and tropes, many of which are satirized and subverted in Greg Kotis’s biting script. Urinetown takes place in a semi-dystopian society in which water has become a scare-enough resource to warrant the privatization of bathrooms and stringent enforcement of the commodification of the right to pee (less outlandish in light of the California drought).
Consequently, the ‘privilege to pee’ exists as a right reserved for the wealthy elite and serves as a comedically-heightened escalation of modern-day class inequality (or perhaps not hyperbolic at all given the very real existence of disorderly conduct laws including public urination penalties designed to target and criminalize the base needs of survival of those without access to private homes …too Urban Studies for this post?)
Regardless, Urinetown explores issues no less topical than class warfare, submission to authority, and the potential naiveté of revolution. The set itself, designed by Josh Cape ’17, uses levels to comment on the dominant and un-checked status of big business as it controls those below. Under the direction of Ada Dolan-Zalaznick ’17, Urinetown offers something for everyone. Fans of traditional musical theatre will enjoy musical numbers, directed by Erin Reifler ’17, featuring a vocally-strong ensemble, and backed by the show’s true unsung heroes (literally), the musicians. Fans of less traditional narratives and darker humor, will enjoy a cynically-appealing second act.
Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years is a contemporary classic, exploring the life and death of love through the marriage of Cathy Hiatt and Jamie Wellerstein. This weekend, Brown’s sublime story comes to life as Musical Forum’s latest production. Directed by Andrew Ganem ’16 and Hannah Margolin ’16, this rendition of The Last Five Years is absolutely phenomenal; every element–from the dynamic orchestra to the electrifying voice of each actor–is brimming with passion.
The script, consisting of monologue-songs that alternate between the two characters (each of whom progresses in chronological opposition to the other), approaches the arc of passion from all angles, providing unparalleled insight into the tragedy of failed love through its unique narrative form. This approach forces the viewer into a constant struggle between riding the excitement of the relationship’s beginning and bearing the weight of its devastating end. Brown’s story, complete with all its juxtapositions, nostalgia, and irony, engages the viewer and becomes an emotional rollercoaster for every audience member.
However, Musical Forum’s rendition of The Last Five Years is so much more than its script; this breathtaking rendition transforms Brown’s love story into an almost visceral experience.
The production is characterized by its stunning dynamics across all fronts. The set, designed by Evan Finkle ’15 and Emma Margulies ’18, is constantly transforming before the viewer’s eye, while the lighting, directed by Ben Chesler ’15 and Emma Davis ’17, perfectly accentuates every moment. Even the props, devised by Wendy Ginsberg ’15, have lives of their own, evoking humor and brutal irony at pivotal moments.
For Jenn Maley ’16, Cabaret is a story of survival and gilding. According to her, the characters do whatever they can to survive–the decisions they must make are heart-breaking, but they do what is necessary in order to continue living their lives–while the Nazi party, which will transform Germany into a nightmare, rises to power as a glamorous party.
Maley particularly emphasizes how important it is to capture the initially positive image of the Nazi party for many Germans–something she learned from Alice Eichenbaum, a survivor of World War II who has spoken to the cast and will speak again to the Brown community this weekend (more on that later). Maley infuses these two ideas into her envisioning of the Broadway classic, introducing them in the shadows of Act I and bringing them to the forefront in the harrowing tragedy of Act II.
The effect is incredible; Maley’s complex conceptual comprehension of the play transforms this production into an incredibly powerful entity.
While the beginning feels somewhat stagnant and one-dimensional, the play catches fire during the Schneider-Schultz engagement party. This scene is where the darkness beneath the veneer of the Nazi party is first exposed.
This darkness is compelling, and the creative team’s unique touches–especially in lighting and choreography–accentuate the discrepancy between the fantastical world of Sally Bowles and the real, ominous nature of the rising Nazi party. This duality snowballs into the second act, where the play evolves into an untamable and passionate tragedy. This is where the true magic of this production, the decay of the principals, comes to the forefront.
The minimalist set (just two central platforms and an elevated platform on each side of the theater), which was at first somewhat disappointing and confusing, takes on a whole new meaning as the glitzy world of the play’s opening dissolves into the darkness of the changing times. The uncontrollable second act tumbles towards an electrifying finale where, in its final moments, even the Emcee’s façade is literally stripped away.
If you take anything away from Musical Forum’s Violet, which opens tomorrow and runs through Monday, it should be that musicals do not have to be larger-than-life to grab the attention of audiences. Indeed, it’s Violet’s modest character that truly makes the show unique among its counterparts. Taking us into the world of twenty-two-year-old Violet, director Skylar Fox ’15 tells the story of a girl cursed with a facial scar caused by a childhood ax accident. The musical, made famous by actress Sutton Foster’s portrayal of Violet and based of the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” explores themes of identity, beauty, and inner peace.
The two-act journey takes us from North Carolina to Oklahoma circa 1964 as we follow Violet, played by the delightful Ellen Zanheiser’14, as she seeks out a charismatic televangelist whom she hopes will heal her scar. To the surprise of no one but the regrettably naive heroine, the televangelist doesn’t heal the scar, leaving both Violet and the audience wondering what she will do next. Evan Silver’16, a stand-out who portrays both the passionate televangelist and the not-as-enthusiastic bus driver, so expertly slips into the skin of the dramatic, sensationalist preacher that we find ourselves sympathizing with Violet’s belief in his abilities. The infectious, gospel-inspired “Raise Me Up,” sung by the angelic voice of Becca Millstein ’16, has the audience clapping and stomping right along with its robe-wearing chorus. Along the way, we receive glimpses into Violet’s childhood. Explaining everything from Violet’s scar to her Christian devotion, childhood Violet (Sarah Black ’16) and her father (Jesse Weil ’16) help us to better understand the origins of Violet’s insecurities.