OSWEGO — Audiences can see the balancing act of SUNY Oswego student cast members Michaela Buckley and Shelby Gilbert — balance acting and their roles as dance captains — as the college presents “Urinetown: The Musical,” opening at 2 p.m. April 21, in Waterman Theatre.
The college’s spring musical also will run at 2 p.m. April 22, at 7:30 p.m. April 26 and 27, and offer a concluding matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 28.
Theatre faculty member Jonel Langenfeld directs and Robert Allen is the musical director.
The comedy musical created by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis satirizes politics, social irresponsibility, the legal system and other musicals. After a water shortage, the government enforced a ban on private toilets, enabling a company to profit by charging admission for people’s basic needs. One of the characters decides to start a revolution for their freedom.
The former Broadway musical won three Tony Awards, as well as Outer Critics Circle, Lucille Lortel and Obie awards.
“It’s very funny, irreverent and silly at times, but also taps into some of the great musicals of Broadway’s history, with homages to things like ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, and ‘Les Miserables,’” said theatre faculty member Toby Malone, who teaches dramaturgy, or the theory and practice of dramatic composition.
“The music is very peppy and fun, and with an enthusiastic group of students in our cast, it should be a great night,” he said. Songs include “Snuff That Girl” and “It’s a Privilege to Pee.”
Along with its silly tone, Michaela Buckley said, the musical delivers a more serious message.
“The whole show is basically the rich people are oppressing the poor,” Buckley said. “It’s definitely like what do you do when people have literally infringed on a basic human right. And it’s gotten to the point when it’s basically normal. No one questions it.”
That is, until one of the characters does.
‘A lot of fun’
Buckley plays protagonist Little Sally and serves as one of the dance captains for the production alongside Gilbert, who is in the ensemble.
Both students have considerable experience with dance — tap, jazz, ballet, modern and lyrical. As dance captains, when professional choreographer Brett Bogardus is not in rehearsals, the two organize the dances and make sure they work well with the costumes and what Langenfeld envisions.
As with most other musicals, dance plays a significant role. In “Urinetown: The Musical,” there are a few big numbers. “There are different styles because ‘Urinetown’ is kind of a parody of other types of musicals,” Gilbert said. “So we’re pulling in all those different types of dance that they do in those shows. The dances are a lot of fun to do.”
Langenfeld has infused “Urinetown” with lots of dance, in part because it’s a learning opportunity for students working in this genre.
“Musical theatre is a heightened language. It is something more poetic. You get to a point where words can’t express any more. And that’s when you break into song or you just start dancing,” she said.
In “Snuff That Girl,” for example, some of the rebellious townspeople are eager to hurt Hope Cladwell (Alexandra Matsu) — daughter of the pay-to-pee magnate — dancing around her and singing while she is tied to a chair. They are about to kill her when the dashing Bobby Strong (Seth Prevratil) bursts in and reminds the rebels that their purpose is more than just revenge.
As a freshman theatre major working on her first SUNY Oswego production, Buckley is figuring out how to balance her role as Little Sally and as a dance captain.
Twelve-year-old Little Sally is a very confident, innocent and bright girl, despite not going to school.
Buckley said she enjoys playing her, because she is the one character who thinks and asks questions before she acts. At one point, Little Sally calls out, asking “Why are we doing this musical?” while the cast is running in place and singing as if they are in a choir, “Run, Freedom, Run!”
“I kind of have two mindsets,” Buckley said. “I’ll be thinking about Little Sally and just focusing on that and then sometimes I’ll just be like, ‘Alright, I’m not in this number at all, step back from this number for a little bit and then see how everyone else is doing.’ In the normal scene work, I turn off dance captain and I’ll focus on Little Sally.”
‘A leg up’
Gilbert said it becomes challenging to not only focus on her own vocals and dancing, but also worry about how the rest of the cast looks and whether they are struggling. “If they’re struggling, then they’ll come to you for help and you have to help them out. So I do find it a little challenging, because you want to focus on yourself during rehearsals, but at the same time you can’t just focus on yourself.”
The effort the cast members put into their dancing can also help their acting. “Dance teachers do a lot about how to control your body and how to move,” Buckley said. “To be comfortable on stage, knowing how to be comfortable in your body and ways to move that look good, it helps with acting. And knowing how to dance, especially for musicals, it always gives you a leg up.”
Other lead characters are Caldwell B. Cladwell (Douglas Woolever), Officer Lockstock (Scott Kesselring) and Penelope Pennywise (Tehillah Wilson).
Tickets for “Urinetown: The Musical” are $15 ($7 for students with a valid SUNY Oswego ID) and are available at all SUNY Oswego box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-2141.
Parking is included in the price of a ticket and is available in the employee and commuter lots in front of Culkin Hall and behind Hart and Funnelle residence halls.
People with disabilities needing assistance should call 315-312-2141 in advance of a performance.
For more information on these or other performing and fine arts events at SUNY Oswego, visit oswego.edu/arts.
The performance also connects with “Fresh Water for All,” the college’s first Grand Challenges project starting in the fall, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to topics related to access to and preservation of the precious resource.