COURTESY MANOA VALLEY THEATRE
The characters of "Urinetown" must fight for the right to use the toilet.
Bad audio undermines good acting
Lyrics are so essential to musical theater that it boggles the mind to find Manoa Valley Theatre opening its 38th season with a production of "Urinetown," in which almost all the lyrics are lost in a cacophony of overamplified noise.
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre
When: Continues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 24.
Tickets: $30, with discounts for seniors, military and ages 25 or younger.
Call: 988-6131 or visit www.manoavalleytheatre.com.
Musical director Phil Hidalgo's four-piece band drowns out the lead vocalists on all but the softest and quietest numbers, but the problem appears to lie with the audio board operator rather than the musicians, because there as other sound problems as well.
Some singers become inaudible when they turn to sing to different parts of the house. Others are seen singing in one spot while their amplified voices boom out from somewhere else. Excessive volume is a problem, and the lack of proper balance between singers and orchestra makes it worse.
Even if "Urinetown" were the wittiest satire in the history of American theater and had the greatest score in the history of Broadway, it would still be essential for the singers to be heard. Truth be told, it isn't overwhelmingly clever, so director Andrew Meader's cast needed a much better audio mix than they got on opening night.
So did the audience. The sound was so bad that a number of seats were empty after intermission.
Beyond that, the success of the show as comedy rests on the talents of several exceptional cast members.
Matthew Pennaz (Officer Lockstock) and Danel Verdugo (Little Sally) shine in the brightest comic moments. Lockstock is a police officer who enforces draconian laws against public urination in an unidentified draught-stricken metropolis; Little Sally is one of the urban poor who struggles each day to scrape up the price of admission to the pay toilet.
Pennaz plays Lockstock with self-satisfied condescension, reminiscent of the Ted Baxter character on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." He is also one of the few who succeeds more often than not in making himself heard in the louder musical numbers. Verdugo, her bright red hair giving her the look of a Rubenesque Raggedy Ann, likewise soars as an animated actor and delightful comedian; she is especially good on her showcase number, "Tell Her That I Love Her."
Katie Beth Hicks (Hope Cladwell) and Mike Dupre (Bobby Strong) are well matched as the star-crossed lovers. Bobby works at the neighborhood toilet; Hope's father owns the corporate behemoth that operates the "public amenities."
Hicks, who was charming as the sexually naive young wife in MVT's "A Little Night Music" last spring, steps forward as an appealing vocalist and comedian; Dupre makes his MVT debut as a working-class Everyman who blunders his way into leading a rebellion. Dupre's Bobby has a squeaky-clean wholesomeness that brings to mind Bobby Rydell's portrayal of Hugo Peabody in the movie "Bye Bye Birdie" -- it's a winning performance on all counts.
The couple's big musical number -- "Follow Your Heart" -- is one of the few in which the audio mix favors the singers. It's a fine showcase.
Jamie Rolfsmeyer dominates several scenes as the statuesque no-nonsense boss of the pay toilet; image a female version of Seinfeld's "soup Nazi" deciding who gets to use the facilities -- that's her!
R. Andrew Doan (Caldwell B. Cladwell) plays the CEO of the Urine Good Co. as a malevolent Daddy Warbucks type -- and he looks the part. Doan's big number, "Don't Be the Bunny," is a glorious celebration of greed and the virtue of the pre-emptive strike, and is staged so that the lyrics can be heard. Choreographer Ahnya Chang's choreography, and several sets of bunny slippers, add to its impact.
Be warned: "Urinetown" is problematic fare for preteens or anyone who prefers not to hear four-letter terms for urination shouted out as "entertainment."
The story could just as easily have been about a city in which drinking water is worth its weight in gold -- and, toilet humor aside, have been just as funny. It could also give us characters we'd care about -- rather than a story in which the death of a character or three touches us less than the loss of a lab rat in a failed experiment.