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Review: Belmont University Musical Theatre Comes Roaring Back With Fabulous URINETOWN THE MUSICAL

It's Been Two Years, But The Talent Has Grown Exponentially at Belmont University

Review: Belmont University Musical Theatre Comes Roaring Back With Fabulous URINETOWN THE MUSICAL

Anyone who's been even the least bit concerned about the future of musical theater, in general, or the status of Belmont University Musical Theatre, in particular, need worry no more. The multi-talented triple threats studying on the Nashville campus, under the tutelage of program coordinator Nancy Allen and her team of top-flight educators, are proof that musical theater as we know it continues to flourish even in the darkest and most difficult of times.

In fact, BUMT's production of Urinetown - The Musical, onstage at the Troutt Theatre through Sunday, November 14, offers solid evidence that the future of musical theater is indeed bright and promising, thanks to the remarkable performances delivered by a company of seasoned actors who just happen to be - how to put it artfully and gracefully? - old enough to vote, but probably not old enough to drink, young enough to have stars in their eyes and their heads in the clouds, but mature enough to know exactly what they want from a life in the theater and, more importantly, how to achieve those goals.

Review: Belmont University Musical Theatre Comes Roaring Back With Fabulous URINETOWN THE MUSICAL No matter what lens you use to consider its merits, BUMT's Urinetown the Musical is a triumph. Just be sure to pee before you go, because the power of suggestion is mighty potent throughout the fast-paced, but still more than two hours of exuberant, exhilarating entertainment provided by a passel of future Tony Award contenders.

Directed with his signature flair by David Shamburger, with musical direction by the assured Jo Lynn Burks, terrific choreography by Anna Perry, the assistant direction of Erica Aubrey and with the aforementioned Ms. Allen coordinating the proceedings, Urinetown the Musical seems the perfect opportunity to revel in the immense talents of the assembled wunderkinder. In short, they will knock your socks off.

Since it's been at least two years since we last sat in a theater on the Belmont campus feeling awestruck by the efforts of BUMT students, we must admit trepidations. One of the most rewarding parts of reviewing academic theater is watching student actors evolve over time, to watch them emerge from the ensemble to take on lead roles. Thanks to a pandemic-borne shutdown that relegated performance to streaming availability, we have thus been deprived of much of that richly compelling experience and many young actors have since graduated and moved on to already successful, if truncated, careers in performance.

Review: Belmont University Musical Theatre Comes Roaring Back With Fabulous URINETOWN THE MUSICAL Yet a few familiar faces remain among the BUMT superstars-in-training by whom we were awestruck once more, but they've been joined by a new crop of students - new faces to us, if not to their on-campus colleagues - who offer proof that no stinking virus can quash the creative aspirations of the truly gifted.

Led by the pitch-perfect Darian Goulding as Officer Lockstock, Urinetown's cop-in-charge and de facto narrator of the piece, and featuring BUMT standouts David Benjamin Perry (as the scene-stealing Officer Barrel) and Chamberlin Little (as revolutionary Bobby Strong, showing such amazing growth as an actor since we first saw him onstage as a wee tyke), the entire ensemble of actors bring the satirical tale of a municipality suffering from the weight of social irresponsibility, political corruption, corporate mismanagement and all manner of musical theater hijinks to vivid life, providing some rapturously captivating live theater which their audiences have been starving for since last we gathered together.

With music by Mark Hollmann, lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis and book by Kotis, Urinetown the Musical is delightfully irreverent and winningly self-referential - but no matter if you are seeing it for the first time or even if it's your first musical theater excursion ever, its comedy and pathos land squarely where it needs to land and it's fresh and inventive score will leave you hoping for more.

Review: Belmont University Musical Theatre Comes Roaring Back With Fabulous URINETOWN THE MUSICAL Goulding's starmaking turn as Lockstock - or, perhaps, star-burnishing turn, since he already boasts an amazing resume - is worth the price of admission or more. He delivers a no-holds-barred performance that radiates thanks to his tremendous stage presence, his ability to deliver even the most stilted dialogue with practiced ease, and a sense of comic-timing that simply cannot be taught. Rather, his timing is innately a part of his estimable talents. (We're penciling him in for Broadway stardom even as we type away furiously on this review.)

He is given ample support from his fellow lawman Barrel, played by the equally capable Perry, who effortlessly delivers the comedy goods throughout. Little, who showed so much promise as a child actor on local stages, comes into his adulthood with his onstage charm intact and proves himself a commanding presence as a young leading man. His "Run Freedom Run" is spectacular!

Shamburger surrounds the three with actors who are equally impressive who show off their own talents to supreme effect, thus ensuring that Urinetown the Musical is among the most entertaining productions we've ever seen on a stage anywhere, anytime. Michel Vasquez, cast in the role of the ingenue Hope Cladwell, is sheer perfection as the dewy-eyed young woman whose idealistic tendencies give way to a determined revolutionary leader. She has a beautiful voice and her own impeccable timing makes certain that her transformation from the sweet and innocent Hope whom we first meet into the still-sweet but less-innocent Hope we come to know is somehow made believable.

Review: Belmont University Musical Theatre Comes Roaring Back With Fabulous URINETOWN THE MUSICAL Ariel Gray shows off her own tremendous presence as Penelope Pennywise and pins your ears back with a glorious iteration of "It's a Privilege to Pee" in Act One. Further, she exudes a certain maturity that makes her Act Two revelation seem authentic and not unexpected or weird.

As the sardonic Little Sally, Shannon Hegarty is an ideal match for Goulding's Lockstock, Karis Mitchell is terrific as Little Becky Two Shoes and Caroline Eiseman is fabulous as Bobby's mom. Among the men in the ensemble, Carson Been gives an indelible read as Senator Fipp, showing off his own comic dexterity with a melodramatic flair, and Bradley Parrish almost walks off with the whole dang show in his showstopping performance as the slightly crazed Hot Blades Harry. As the obsequious Mr. McQueen, Mitch Beard gives a consummately confident and altogether funny portrayal, and Josh Ferguson is good as Bobby's dad, "Old Man" Strong.

But if anyone deserves special consideration in this review, clearly it's Nathan Ancheta, whose dastardly Caldwell B. Cladwell (Hope's father, the corrupt businessman who wreaks havoc over the poor of the town) is the stuff melodramas have been made of since they first appeared onstage. Ancheta is cool, calm and collected even as he displays histrionics of the first order as he wields his tremendous influence and power over his fawning minions and collection of yes-men and yes-women. (He joins Mr. Goulding on our previously mentioned list of future you-know-whats.)

Review: Belmont University Musical Theatre Comes Roaring Back With Fabulous URINETOWN THE MUSICAL Of course, all of these actors are only as good as their fellow castmates and, we're quite happy (perhaps even a bit proud) to report they are all pretty darn swell. And they are given the necessary underpinnings of a strong production provided by Shamburger and company. Perry's choreography is a visual knockout, to put it directly, and her ensemble deliver the goods in grand style. As to be expected, BUMT being BUMT, the powerful collection of strong musical theater voices are made even better by musical director Burks, whose nifty musicians provide extraordinary accompaniment (congrats to Nate Strasser, Isaac Mauldin, Matt Martirano, Max Dvorin and Josh Scalf for performing so well under Burks' baton).

Review: Belmont University Musical Theatre Comes Roaring Back With Fabulous URINETOWN THE MUSICAL Will Butler's set design makes grand use of the Troutt stage and is cleverly tongue-in-cheek, not unlike the script itself. Richard Davis' lighting is gorgeously theatrical and you can't help but know it's by the master designer the very moment you first encounter it.

Urinetown - The Musical. Music by Mark Hollmann. Lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis. Book by Greg Kotis. Directed by David Shamburger. Musical direction by Jo Lynn Burks. Choreography by Anna Perry. Presented by Belmont University Musical Theatre. At The Troutt Theatre, Nashville. Through November 14. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).

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From This Author - Jeffrey Ellis

Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 35 years. In 1989, Ellis and his partner l... (read more about this author)

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