Arts Collective @Howard Community College’s Director and Cast Members on ‘URINETOWN’ by Michael Avolio and Susan G. Kramer

 NOT JUST TAKING THE PISS

It’s one of my favorite musicals, and a group of young and talented actors are about to take the plunge(r) into Arts Collective @HCC’s production of Urinetown: The Musical. Producing Artistic Director Susan G. Kramer gathers together Director/Choreographer Jenny Male and five members of the cast who talk about this pisser of a show and their roles.
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Sue: Were you to attend a play with a title like Urinetown: The Musical, you’d be forgiven for not expecting a thought-provoking work of social satire. But that’s exactly what the show is, says Jenny Male, director and choreographer for Howard Community College’s Arts Collective new production of the musical, slated to take place in HCC’s Smith Theatre May 3–13. Make no mistake – it is a comedy, and a musical, and a crowd-pleaser that was nominated for ten Tony Awards in 2002 and won three. But there’s a complexity to Urinetown that Male hopes will engage audiences on a deeper level than just making them laugh.

“I would like for audiences to remember both sides of Urinetown – the hilarious song and dance numbers as well as the serious environmental and social issues raised by the show,” says Male.

Director/Choreographer Jenny Male rehearses with her 'Urinetown' cast. Photo courtesy of Arts Collective @HCC.

In the world of Urinetown, the poor are forced to scrounge for pennies to pay for the privilege to pee, due to a 20-year drought, while the rich can afford the nicer pay-to-pee amenities.”

“The show is filled with hope for a better future,” Male says. “A boy and girl fall in love when she tells him to ‘follow his heart,’ and it changes their lives as well as the lives of everyone in the town forever. Through it all, the people fight for love, justice, and the enduring hope of peeing free.”

Dustin Merrell, who plays that boy, says, “I believe Urinetown can bring enjoyment to just about any type of audience. There’s underlying political and societal humor and commentary throughout the show, for those who seek to analyze such aspects; aside from that, however, there are elements of hope, love, laughter, equality… and, yes, pee humor.”

Musical theatre enthusiasts will also appreciate some subtle — and some not so subtle — nods to some of Broadway’s biggest shows. Urinetown delivers on just about every aspect that makes musical theatre wonderful.”

We spoke with Jenny Male and several members of the cast about Urinetown: The Musical. Male returns to Howard Community College’s Arts Collective for her 8th production since 2003.

Dustin Merrell, who plays Bobby Strong, is a guest artist making his debut at Arts Collective with this show. Playing Little Sally in Urinetown is Keri Eastridge, a theatre major at Howard Community College who has previously appeared in several Arts Collective plays. Guest artist Erin Branigan portrays Penelope Pennywise in this, her first Arts Collective appearance. Current HCC student Stephen Backus returns for his third AC production in the roles of Hot Blades Harry and Old Man Strong. I asked them to talk about their roles.

(left to right) Erin Branigan, Stephen Backus, Jenny Male, Keri Eastridge, and Dustin Merrill. Photo by AC staff.

THE CHARACTERS

Keri Eastridge: I love playing Little Sally because I get to be naive in my youth, but also very smart for an eight-year-old. My biggest challenge was to keep the balance of childhood innocence and true intelligence.

Stephen Backus: I think Old Man Strong is sweet and cares about the fates of others… his fate does have an impact on his son, the story’s hero, Bobby Strong. Hot Blades is a bit different. He plays Dionysus to Bobby’s Apollo; he’s all about short-term solutions and instant gratification, whereas Bobby is prepared for a longer fight.

Erin Branigan: Ms. Pennywise has one of the most interesting and dynamic journeys in the show.  I’m trying to draw on my own experiences of overcoming hardship to bring some reality to the role, as well as my penchant for my love of old Hollywood.

Dustin Merrill (Bobby Strong) and Katie Chase Martin (Hope Cladwell). Photo by Erin Drum.

Dustin Merrell: I see Bobby Strong as a guy who, rather than being motivated by anger or rebellion, just wants to feel like he’s a part of something special. What I like most about Bobby Strong is his determination to see redeeming qualities in others – even in characters who may not seem so redeemable at face value.

For every moment where Bobby is dreaming of another life, there is a moment where he is completely tuned into his surroundings, and responding with the maturity of a young man who is starting to value the importance of growing up.

Above all, this experience has made me truly value the interactions I get to have on stage with the other immensely talented actors of the cast. I have often felt a connection with characters who are juggling the concepts of growing up and finding their place in the world.

THE PRODUCTION

Jenny: To enhance this world of the show, the design team and I hope to convey a sense of thirst: for power, freedom, money, water, and love. A water tower and pipes were added to the set design by Ryan Michael Haase to show the loss of water over time. Terry Cobb, the light designer, is creating harsh angles to assist with the message, and Jessica Welch’s costumes round out the theme of the haves and the have-nots in the show as well as the young, dreamy-eyed lovers. The designers have created an artistic playground for the actors and the audience.

Keri: It is really great to work with a director who is so willing to incorporate each individual’s quirky bits into scenes.

Lindsay Hammond, Katie Chase Martin, Stephen Backus (center with hat) and Clare Kneebone in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Arts Collective @ HCC.

Jenny: The cast has been a pure delight! The pure joy that they bring to the rehearsal process is priceless. It is experiences like this that made me want to become a director. Guiding these actors has been one of the most incredible experiences of my professional career.

Stephen: The most fun thing about this show — apart from the energy, which is in abundance – is Jenny giving us the freedom to make discoveries and choices which can be incorporated into the show.

Erin: Urinetown is a dark, funny show with a really unique perspective… It’s not your typical musical. I also love the fights!

The cast of 'Urinetown: The Musical': Bottom Row: Keri Eastridge, Felicia Tuttle, Clare Kneebone, Dustin Merrill, and Michael Nugent/Middle Row: Melissa Valdivia, Katie Chase Martin, Ashly LeGrant, Amy Chase Martin, Erin Branigan, and Rachel Plunkett/Back/Top Row: Devery McDonald, Ed Higgins, Lindsay Hammond, Cory Jones, Gavin Shown, and Stephen Backus. Not pictured: Tom Matera. Photo by AC staff.

 Arts Collective at Howard Community College Presents The Tony Award-Winning Satire Urinetown: The Musical
May 3-13
Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollmann
Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotis
Directed and Choreographed by Jenny Male
Musical Direction by Keith Tittermary

11 Performances – May 3 – 13, 2012 – Two Weekends Only!
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm.

Special Events:
Pay-What-You-Can Daytime Performance: Friday, May 11 at 1pm
Post-Show Discussion: Sunday, May 13

Tickets:
$15 general admission
$12 for seniors, military members and groups
$10 for students with I.D.
Tickets may be purchased through the Horowitz Center Box Office (443-518-1500) or the AC website.

More Info:
To view more information for this show and AC, call 443-518-1922, visit their website www.howardcc.edu/artscollective, or email artscollective@howardcc.edu

Location:
Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre, inside the Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center (HVPA) on the campus of HCC -10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD, 21044. Here are directions.

Note:
Parental guidance suggested. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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