You won’t piss your night away at ‘Urinetown’

What is “Urinetown?” “Urinetown” is a place. “Urinetown” is an idea. “Urinetown” is the best time you can have on campus right now.

TCNJ Musical Theatre’s (TMT) production of Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’ riotous musical was met with feverish acclaim on its opening night last Wednesday in the Don Evans Black Box Theater. The story of a town where people have to pay to pee, “Urinetown” remains consistently offbeat, but everything in TMT’s production was spot-on.

“I thought I was gonna hate it,” James Introcaso, senior computer studies major and the play’s director, said of the first time he heard the concept of “Urinetown.” “Now it’s my favorite musical. It was the right sort of over-the-top comedy for this space.”

Indeed, the structure of the Don Evans Theater worked to the musical’s benefit. Characters were constantly utilizing different pieces of the layered set design, usually to hilarious effect. The audience was packed in closely, but this allowed many of the show’s gags involving audience participation to run smoothly.

“Getting the audience involved was part of the fun,” Introcaso said. During one musical sequence, cast members even pulled people in the audience up on-stage to dance around with them, while the rest of the audience cheered.

“Something like that, we decided to do ourselves,” Introcaso explained. “We definitely made (this production) our own.”

Vinny Scafuto, junior history major, who played the show’s hero Bobby Strong, was usually in the thick of the fun on-stage. Whether delivering one-liners or belting out emotional musical numbers, he balanced the show’s comedy and slight hints of drama masterfully.

Scafuto said it wasn’t difficult learning the quick physical gags that comprise most of the show.

“We tried to get the laughs out, and get it right,” he said. “It wasn’t hard. (The director) let us play around a lot, and we had a lot of fun.”

Each part’s tiny physical tics, from Old Man Strong’s jittery shaking to Little Sally’s untouchably high voice, had to be thoroughly studied so that the characters in the production seemed lifelike.

“People really had to own the characters in this production,” Maria Aromando, senior marketing major, who played Bobby Strong’s love interest, Hope Cladwell, said. “It was tough, but there’s so much talent here. Everyone really embodied their character.”

For Introcaso, the process of tightening up the production and making every aspect precise was difficult. The company rehearsed for nine weeks, usually with five four-hour practices per week.

“We just had to do everything over and over again to get the timing right,” he said. “It was a matter of sitting down with the actors so that they could become familiar. It was really hard, but the audience got it.”

One of the most impressive elements of “Urinetown” is its diverse set of musical numbers. Fortunately, a five-piece band, led by musical director Brian Michalowski, junior music education major, made each song sizzle, from the silly “Cop Song” to the stirring “Follow Your Heart.”

“It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Michalowski said. “I didn’t really like the music at first, but after studying it, I think it’s fantastic and extremely clever.”

With an original knee-slapping plot, hummable music and a dedicated cast and crew, TMT’s production of “Urinetown” works on every level. Aromando gave much of the credit for the show’s distinct feel to Introcaso.

“James is a phenomenal director,” she said. “It wasn’t the production as much as the people involved. I love all of them.”

Scafuto echoed the praise for Introcaso. “He has a great directing style. He just lets actors act,” he said. “With the people attached to this, there was never a question of whether or not to do it. This show is now my favorite show, and we had a great time.”

Judging from the amount of enthusiastic chatter in the audience, it seems like the sentiment was shared.