1) Urinetown is the biggest show ever mounted at the Belfry ...how do you feel about a show of this size in such a small theatre space like the Belfry that seats fewer than 300 as part of the season?
Set fills the whole stage picture, moveable pieces, great design by Ian Rye, actors moving throughout the house using all the entrances available and even up on the balcony, there's no miking so the show feels intimate but the music sometimes overpowers singers and we miss the words...difficult to achieve this balance in such a small auditorium.
2) The other record-breaker attached to this show is it's the first time since Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht that a musical that's played on Broadway has been done by the Belfry....is it a good choice?
I do have concerns about Canadian regional non-profit theatres doing American musicals [as in Beauty and the Beast at the Arts Club in Vancouver] but this show has something else going on in it...Reminds me of Brecht, tackles relevant social issues and provokes the audience in the guise of entertainment...it looks at, albeit indirectly, the issue of sustainability and our running out of water...about a future world where water is gone so people have to pay to urinate and the urine is recycled by money-grubbing entrepeneurs and politicians...also like Brecht it acknowledges the audience and lets them "in on the act" so we feel complicit...however, unlike Brecht who argued for socialism and communism and against capitalism in his plays, Urinetown refuses to take sides...it looks at the consequences of revolution and the blind idealism that often lies behind building a world based on hope and justice in the face of huge ecological challenges...this makes surprising turns of event in act 2 that much more shocking...as the character Little Sally says, "This is not a happy musical"!
3) Why would we want to see an unhappy musical...isn't that a contradiction in terms?
In this case no, because the genius of the show, and source of its great popularity, is that you're laughing at the dreadful fates that befall almost everyone and by extension at ourselves because we too are dealing with a world that is running dry of natural resources and what exactly are we doing about it? But the main point is that even though it gets a bit bleak in Act 2, it's remains a marvelous musical with great songs and ensemble numbers that sweep you along with their infectious energy...you can't help but enjoy everyone's misery and that's what makes it so unique I think. Isn't that part of human nature, too, as one character sings "to kill the bunny"?
4) There are 15 cast members and 4 musicians up there...who stood out for you?
A real pleasure to see so many local actors [Brian Linds very funny as Officer Barrel, Lynda Raino dancing up a storm] but for me it was especially rewarding to see two UVIC Phoenix grads...Zach Stevenson is wonderful as the leading man Bobby Strong...beautiful voice, strong physicality and a very untypical but potent charm...also terrific is Meg Roe as Little Sally with her powerhouse voice and quirky characterization of this innocent child trapped in a nightmare world...other non-local standouts are John Payne as the dripping-with-irony narrator Officer Lockstock, Cailin Stadnyk as the dim-witted but lovable ingenue and Susinn McFarlen as the evil Miss Pennywise and your own Scott Walker as the villain Caldwell Cladwell. But it really is an ensemble musical and it is the whole cast working together so well that stays with you.
5) Any comments on the direction and design?
This show is clearly a labor of love for AD Roy Surette and he has directed it very crisply with lots of funny physical and character business that gives everyone a moment or two (or three) in which they can shine. A terrific job on such a big show. Jacques Lemay choreographs simple but effective sequences, including some that give a direct nod to other famous musicals like Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story. Set Designer Ian Rye creates a wonderfully large, moveable and effective set and Lighting designer Gerald King lights it to best effect. Local costume designer Erin Macklem creates very strong costumes that must have lots of velcro in them to make all the quick-changes work so well. All in all it's the hit that it should be and I urge listeners to get their tickets (even though the run has already been extended) as soon as possible!