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BWW Review: URINETOWN THE MUSICAL at The Landless Theatre Company

The Landless Theatre Company's sock puppet rendition of "Urinetown" feels like a joke gone too far, with no clear audience in mind.

BWW Review: URINETOWN THE MUSICAL at The Landless Theatre Company

I, Rachael F. Goldberg, hereby swear to never again watch a show featuring sock puppets.

When I was first assigned to cover The Landless Theatre Company's sock puppet rendition of Urinetown, I joked that it would help me overcome my sock puppet PTSD, courtesy of the 2015 production of Hand to God. I hoped a musical with an intriguing social message and a penchant for calling out its own flaws would be a fun way to change my mind.

Unfortunately, Landless Theatre's production only makes me tempted to set my sock drawer on fire.

Okay, allow me to back up.

Urinetown is a musical from the early 2000s about a town in which a water shortage leads to drastic measures - the end of personal toilets in exchange for privately-owned public toilets whose fees are increasingly hiked to cover research for a long-term water solution, though unfortunately that "solution" turns out to be lining the pockets of the elite.

Notably, Urinetown is a dark comedy, and it draws that humor from two main sources: its self-awareness in narrative scenes when Officer Lockstock and Little Sally discuss the show, and in its sincere presentation of absurdity. Traditional stagings of the musical rely on the discordant pairing of characters' earnestness and their actions - from Senator Fipp's open corruption to the rebels' song about freedom and dignity while dancing around a captive Hope, the show thrives on finding humor in the contradictions of speech and actions. Landless Theatre's decision to recreate this with sock puppets and distractingly weird Zoom backgrounds, though, seems to remove the serious element and shift the comedy from the absurd to the ridiculous, which simply doesn't work for this story.

Part of the issue is that Urinetown is a good show, but not amazing - it's still a bit depressing, and only has a few catchy songs (though, in fairness, "Run, Freedom, Run" is great). But when the smarter comedic elements are removed and the songs aren't always in key, it quickly becomes difficult to watch - especially when the show's original cheeky choreography is replaced with, well, sock puppets attempting to "dance." And that's not even getting into how weirdly creepy the large teeth and the frequent use of a disembodied plastic hand are.

Somewhere in the middle of my viewing (an hour, twenty minutes - it's really hard to say), I started to wonder who is actually Landless Theatre's intended audience. Urinetown is a dark show, better suited for adults, but I can't think of too many adults who would willingly and attentively watch sock puppets for a few hours. To be blunt, this show feels like a joke gone too far - as though someone had once said, "Imagine if we did this with sock puppets?" and then proceeded to do so for a good hour and a half longer than the joke was still funny. Possibly under the influence, if the background images (including a port-a-potty floating in orbit) are anything by which to judge.

All in all, I think it's clear this sock puppet rendition should have stayed in the drawer.

The Landless Theatre Company's Urinetown is available to stream through April 2022 at $5 per 48-hour access link, and can be purchased through the theatre's website.

Photo courtesy of The Landless Theatre Company.

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From This Author Rachael F. Goldberg