Urinetown Packs Up, Lockstock and Barrel, at Final Broadway Performance

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19 Jan 2004

Jeff McCarthy at the final bow of <I>Urinetown</I>.
Jeff McCarthy at the final bow of Urinetown.
Aubrey Reuben

An unlikely theatrical journey, which began in a former industrial building and sometime speakeasy on a lonely Lower East Side street, ended at roughly 5:30 Jan. 18 at Broadway's Henry Miller Theater when the satirical, Tony winning musical Urinetown gave its 965th and final performance.

By the time all the thank yous had been spoken (first by cast member Jeff McCarthy and then by director John Rando), the crowd on stage featured past and present cast members; producers Matthew Rego, Michael Rego and Hank Unger of The Araca Group, and Michael David of Dodger Stage Holdings; musicians, stagehands and designers; choreographer John Carrafa; and creators Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis.

"I think this musical will be an inspiration for young composers and writers," Rando told the standing audience, "and be a beacon for all that is to come in the musical theatre."

Observers of the musical's trajectory over the past four and one half years couldn't help but be inspired. The Cinderella story began at the 1999 New York International Fringe Festival, at which the quirky musical parody had its premiere. The piece, which bore a seemingly unmarketable name, was about an future ecological dystopia where downtrodden citizens must pay a water monopoly for the "privilege to pee."

Audiences were delighted by the Brechtian patische, including playwright David Auburn, who used the intermission to call his pals at The Araca Group. Those young producers eventually attracted the support of Broadway big boys, the Dodgers, resulting in a late spring/early summer Off-Broadway commercial run in 2001. Seasoned professionals such as director Rando and actors McCarthy, John Cullum and Nancy Opel were enlisted for the new production. Reviews propelled a transfer to Broadway, where, despite an opening scheduled soon after Sept. 11, 2001, the show slowly but surely gathered support from audiences and the Tonys (prizes for score, book and direction).



Urinetown, which recently recouped its investment, was stopped only by the imminent destruction of its home; an eviction notice came in the form of developer Douglas Durst's desire to build a new 57-story skyscraper on the site. Many of those connected with the show noted, with an ironical smile, that it was only appropriate that an improbable enterprise should have an improbable ending.

"I can't think of a better way to tear down a theatre than with a performance like the one you just saw," said Rando from the stage. (Ironically, the house where Urinetown premiered, the Present Company Theatorium on Stanton Street, has also ceased to be a theatre.)

That performance was anchored by the presence of two actors: Jeff McCarthy, the original Officer Lockstock, who had been with the show for nearly its entire commercial run; and Spencer Kayden, the only actor in the cast to have appeared in the initial Fringe mounting.

"I still can't believe how far it went and how many people it's touched," said Kayden afterwards at the closing night party, held at the West Bank Cafe. "This has been so much longer an experience than anything I was used to before." As for McCarthy, when asked his feelings, he answered, "Relieved! Long runs are hard. And I've always said, the only harder job I've had than Urinetown was Beauty and the Beast." (McCarthy will again play the Beast in that Disney musical, beginning Feb. 17.)

Upon their entrance on stage, McCarthy and Kayden were greeted with long rounds of applause from the audience, which was populated by members of the production team, colleagues, journalists and diehard fans of the musical.

The cast of the show's last performance included McCarthy, Kayden, Carolee Carmello as Penelope Pennywise, Luther Creek as Bobby Strong, Amy Spanger as Hope Cladwell, David Beach as Mr. McQueen, John Deyle as Senator Fripp, Ken Jennings as Old Man Strong and Hot Blades Harry, Rick Crom as Tiny Tim, Rachel Coloff as Soupy Sue, Kirsten Wyatt as Little Becky Two Shoes, Dwayne Clark as Robby the Stockfish, Lawrence E. Street as Billy Boy Bill, Kay Walbye as Josephine Strong, Daniel Marcus as Officer Barrell and Charles Shaughnessy as Caldwell B. Cladwell.

Beach, Deyle, Jennings, Crom, Coloff, Street, Walbye and Marcus were all in the show at its commercial start.

On hand for the curtain call were Hunter Foster (the original Bobby Strong, now in Little Shop of Horrors), Nancy Opel (Penelope Pennywise), Jennifer Laura Thompson (Hope Cladwell).

Another long-timer, Lockstock and Cladwell understudy Don Richard, took it upon himself to collect the names hung on the lobby cast board, hoping to distribute the plaques to the appropriate actors. However, the souvenir hungry audience, aware that the building was coming down, made this impossible. "Only a few of the names were left when I got there," he said, clutching the remaining wooden slats in his hand.

Urinetown was a career-transforming experience for many of the people connected with the show. Jennifer Laura Thompson and Hunter Foster, formerly best known for their association with the critically derided musical Footloose, became sought-after actors. Spencer Kayden went from black box habitue to Tony nominee. And many in the theatre industry looked on dependable journeyman Jeff McCarthy in a new light.

"It changed our careers—no question," said Michael Rego, speaking for his Araca partners Matthew Rego and Hank Unger. "It was a huge show for us." Araca has gone on to produce such Broadway hits as Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Wicked. Choreographer John Carrafa echoed those words. "Urinetown changed my life." Carrafa is preparing for his first assignment as both director and choreographer; he will pilot a new Beach Boys musical, to be produced by the Dodgers. As for John Rando, he entered Urinetown a well-employed Off-Broadway director and emerged a Tony-winning Broadway helmsman.

Kotis' and Hollmann's lives and careers were arguably transformed more thoroughly than anyone else's. With the closing of Urinetown, the two have begun to think about the future. They've have begun work on their next project. Like Urinetown, it will be satirical in nature, said Kotis, and is inspired by the same 1990's European trip that gave Kotis the germ of the idea that became Urinetown. (The writer, broke in Paris, was forced to choose between food and pay toilets.) Beyond that, the lyricist-librettist would say little about the so far title-less project.

Kotis is also working on a play called Pig Town, which will have a reading in the near future. "It will do for gritty drama what Urinetown did for musicals," said Kotis.