The campy, satirical musical, which clinched Tony Awards in 2002 for Best Book and Best Score, depicts a society where corrupt, avaricious, vicious corporate types and politicians hold all the cards ̶ including keycards to public toilets ̶ and they squeeze every penny out of the masses for the “privilege to pee.” That is, until the revolution wipes the slate clean. Beware a pissed-off populace ̶ especially the youth ̶ as they know too well in Kiev’s Maidan, Yemen’s Kamara, and Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Theatre is the forum where we gladly pay to relieve ourselves. And what a relief to discover that youth is not wasted on highschoolers, who can distill this edgy material with such facility.
Wait, these are no ordinary highschoolers. Act Two @ Levine’s Pre-Professional Program is apparently a nuclear magnet for the best and brightest nouveau novas in NoVa. And, clearly, Director Kevin Kuchar commands his troupes to own every moment onstage as if there is no tomorrow.
From the moment doors open to the bunker ̶ the rehearsal space at Woolly Mammoth Rehearsal Hall, which graciously donates its venue to give these 7th- through 12th-graders a place to play and ply their craft ̶ the kids are in the flow. Against a wall of gallows-style stalls, their dark town is populated with street urchins and leeches, oozing with character like a lava lamp ̶ a singular mass of energy continuously shifting shape as they mess with the audience, mime and practiced improv with one other as a warm-up.
The show is revolutionary in another way: It rebels against its own genre, saying: “Tear down this fourth wall!” The production’s pillars are narrator Officer Lockstock (Max Fowler), our Urinetown tour guide, and Little Sally (Annika Cowles), our moral guide. The two dwell within the narrative but also pop out in self-conscious, show-stopping shtick. Nothing in the dramatic formula is safe from spoofing – Rodgers & Hammerstein’s speed dating among star-crossed lovers Hope and Bobby Strong; the overuse of hydraulics as spectacle onstage; anything triggering waterworks from an audience. There are nods to the obvious Les Mis drill and even Titanic (the movie, not the musical), along with the droll moral: Hope never dies.
Riding the motif of “strength in numbers” and leaders stepping up, this ensemble promises a very deep bench. Each and every participant is dripping with talent.
Scouting the standouts with a little “role” calling: Even before you realize she’s playing Little Sally, Cowles impresses as costume designer, with her classy contrast of styles for the suits and brutes ̶ the latter’s fashions are soiled, of course, using grays and earth-hued material that evoke camo, ready for war. With comedic instincts befitting Gilda Radner, she plays Little Sally in a big way. To perfection. As an artist, she is peerless! And then there are great vocal performances from the pipin’ hot Amanda Chulick (Pennywise), the sugary soprano Hope (Amanda Silverstein), and the spice of Carla Astudillo (Hot Blades Harry).
Among the men, if Steve Martin and Conan O’Brien had a son who could sing like a dream, that’d be David Newman (Caldwell B. Cladwell). For a villain, he’s heroic. Fowler (Officer Lockstock) acts with authority and spunk. His commitment never wanes and he could win the Most Likely to Succeed in Show Biz Award. Together with sidekick Liam Allen (Officer Barrel), they’re Gotham City’s dynamic duo. Their “Cop Song” is outrageous! Allen’s purple handcuffs, Georgia state trooper shades, sky-blue-milky short shorts, commando shirt and Village People vogue-ing combine in masterful comic relief.
Marc Pavan makes a strong Bobby Strong, leader of the rebellion. His over-the-top style is a bit like a Canadian mountie cartoon, but his tenor is delicious, both syrupy and meaty. He turns the black box into a gospel-infused revival meeting with a rousing “Run, Freedom, Run.”
Vocal Coach Duane Moody and Musical Director Keith Tittermary must be in heaven with these instruments. A slice of heaven for the audience too, particularly when the full ensemble is engaged in “Snuff That Girl” or comes alive as the Walking Dead in “Apparitions.” The choreography, a throwback to “Thriller,” is thrilling.
I’d be remiss not to mention, among the masses, the memorable Rachael Schindler (with the little doll hands, cute, a la SNL’s Kristen Wiig), Queen Griffin (fabulous stage presence), Corey Levine (the bunny in “Don’t Be the Bunny” and a budding clown), Tyler Lazzarri (a dazzler as Mr. McQueen), and Meryl Crock, who wowed me with her every note and nuance. Hitch your wagon to her, kids; she’s going places. As the audience leapt from their seats, I felt compelled to go get this go-getter’s name.
All this with just six rehearsals? Next week, the group reprises Parade for composer Jason Robert Brown. They’ve also had audiences with the likes of Broadway babe Sutton Foster. Mind-blowing.
Stage moms and dads, if you haven’t scheduled an audition for your little hams with Act Two @ Levine by the time you finish reading this write-up, you’re zanier than Mama Rose. And anyone with a bladder: You gotta go! Run, run, run, run, run, get tickets, if not for this one, for Spamalot, in the wings, running May 2-4.
Running time: About two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
its short, 4-performance run tomorrow March 9, 2014, at 2 PM at Act Two @ Levine performing at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s rehearsal Hall – 641 D Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Online presales are sold out but, if you’re lucky, tickets may be available at the door for $20. Storm the bastion! Demand an extension!