Onstage: Shtick vs. Schmaltz

NKU's 'Urinetown' needs to fight the urge

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If you're looking to warm up during February, you could do worse than heading to Northern Kentucky University's Corbett Theatre for the spirited production of Urinetown. There's enough energy onstage to melt snow.

I suspect this irreverent, tongue-in-cheek musical will become a staple on college and university stages in the future. That's good and bad, as demonstrated by Professor Ken Jones' staging. The musical with a title that turns people off is a funny story about a city where "It's a Privilege to Pee." Urinetown pokes fun in many directions — especially at the conventions of musical theater and the heartfelt emotions that are its stock in trade. But it doesn't stop there: the greed of American businesses (the company that's privatized "public amenities," er, toilets, is called "Urine Good Company") gets its comeuppance — as does the revolutionary instinct.

Unfortunately, Jones has chosen not to rely on the very funny script and songs: He's directed his willing cast to overdo almost everything. It's funny for a while, but it wears thin — and it's not necessary. As Officer Lockstock, the show's sardonic guide ("I may be a cop, but I'm also the narrator — so they can't touch me"), Cary Davenport has a great voice and a wealth of stage presence. But he's been coached to do so much wink-wink, elbow-in-the-ribs nudging that his character grows tiresome. There's a lesser matter of actors playing roles intended for older performers, but that's not nearly as distracting as the over-the-top push that takes too many moments and shoves them harder.

Nonetheless, it's easy to enjoy this cast's dancing and singing, particularly in an energetic second-act sequence of "Snuff That Girl" and "Run, Freedom, Run." The latter features Roderick Justice as the idealistic leader of the revolution, and he's a fine singer and comic presence. Denise Devlin, as his conflicted love interest, has a great voice, too, featured in "I See a River." Freshman Allison Muennich as Pennywise shows a powerful vocal presence as the erstwhile operator of the "amenity."

Balancing shtick with schmaltz is the challenge of Urinetown: NKU just misses getting it right. Grade: B

URINETOWN, presented by Northern Kentucky University's Department of Theatre and Dance, continues through Feb. 25.

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