You might think “Urinetown” sounds unappealing, but don’t let the title fool you. This musical won Tony Awards for its direction, book, music and lyrics when it first ran on Broadway in 2002, and was called by the New York Times, “a great musical—extraordinary, hilarious, and entirely original.” It will be all that and more when presented this weekend and next by the talented cast and crew of Montclair High School’s School of Visual and Performing Arts (SVPA).
The story is set in a city where a 20-year drought has created a terrible water shortage, forcing the citizens to pay to…pee. The social commentary in its off-beat plot is certainly relevant today, as it satirizes capitalism, bureaucracy, and corporate greed. Indeed, “Urinetown” is the perfect mix of sophisticated, dark humor and fun, wacky music and characters. Brenda Pepper, director of the production, says, “The music, the energy, the dance numbers and sophistication of this script and the performers make this a very special production indeed.”
What makes the SVPA production even more special is that two members of the original Broadway show are Montclair residents, and Pepper tapped them to help guide the student performers. Dan Marcus, the original Officer Barrell, worked with the two lead police officers, while Rick Sordelet, the original Broadway stage combat choreographer, helped stage the fight scenes. That was a challenge, considering that the original production had a cast of 22, while the SVPA show has double the number. “It was quite an undertaking to stage 44 cast members in combat, but he did so brilliantly,” Pepper says.
“Urinetown” is Brenda Pepper’s first show in her new role as Director of SVPA, though she has a long list of credits to her name. She studied in New York with Lee Strasberg and other prominent members of the Actors’ Studio, and helped launch Luna Stage as well as Lunatic Fringe, an improv company. She performed off-Broadway as recently as last summer, and teaches visual and performing arts at a high school in Newark. The MHS students have embraced her warmly, and she is fitting in beautifully as a new member of the SVPA community.
Helen Laser, a senior in the show and Vice President of SVPA, says, “I have had a great experience with her this year… I feel very well prepared and I am very confident that it's going to be a great show.”
Pepper did one have significant challenge. She found so much talent among the students at MHS that she couldn’t pick a single actress for the lead female role! The result is that two seniors, Jami Price and Elena Juliano, will alternate performances as Hope Cladwell, with Jami in the first show on Fri, May 4, and Elena ending in the last one on Sun, May 13. “Both girls are phenomenal and bring their own originality to the script,” Pepper says. “It was a great decision!”
A very sad note, however, is that longtime SVPA family member Pat Woodward, who for many years directed the Fall Showcase and helped out behind the scenes year- round, recently passed away. Pepper says the loss “was truly devastating for everyone. To the credit of my amazing cast and crew, they continue to use their energy and talent in a positive way. I know Pat would be proud. I certainly am!”
“Urinetown” will run in the Little Theater in the George Inness Annex at Montclair High School, 141 Park St., this weekend, May 11 and 12 at 8 p.m., and May 13 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students of any age, and will go on sale one hour before show time.