If there was ever a Broadway show that could be done justice as a puppet musical melodrama, it’s Urinetown. The script and songs of this beloved cult musical are the same. The only difference in this Landless Theatre production is the cast: it’s made up entirely of sock puppets.
The emotional depth of cotton and hot glue is limited without inspired vision and direction — thankfully the creative team and performers tap into the show’s absurdist dystopian story and bring out the humor and entertainment value.
The satirical cautionary tale is set in a not-too-distant future of corruption and rotting infrastructure, with the greedy corporation UGC (Urine Good Company) managing a water shortage by regulating when, where, and for what fee citizens can use the facilities. To paraphrase Mrs. Pennywise: Peeing is a privilege, not a right. This tension serves as backdrop to a love story between toilet keeper Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell, the daughter of the UGC CEO.
The characters of Urinetown are brilliant caricatures, from the penny-pinching Pennywise, Officers Lockstock and Barrel, heroic strongman Bobby Strong, and hopeful ingenue Hope Cladwell. The story also includes frequent nods to popular musical moments like the Act 1 finale of “One Day More” from Les Miserables and an 11 o’clock gospel number à la “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls.
So why not employ adorable sock puppets to tell the tale? Laura Briggs of Sockrider Puppets does an expert job of creating unique characters that both move well for performers and film well in front of a green screen. I’m especially fond of the googly eyes glued to pom poms — it’s an inexpensive and effective way to create depth and visual interest with texture. The male puppets have teeth — an addition that can quickly go wrong if done with the wrong proportions. Old Man Strong doesn’t have any, though, and he’s puppeteered in a way that rounds his mouth, hinting that he has no teeth due to age — a very smart and hilarious detail. Another giggle-worthy element is the use of doll hands throughout the piece — most notably to drag Old Man Strong off camera.
The film editors demonstrate their expertise in how they’re able to adapt this stage production to screen. The frame of the screen as a proscenium serves as a wonderful homage to The Muppets, Sifl and Olly, and even slapstick Punch and Judy shows. (Look at Jim Henson’s early commercial work for Wilkins Coffee for more great examples of absurd humor performed by puppets.) I especially liked when the puppets line up for Miss Pennywise: they’re seen marching across the screen, almost as an upbeat funeral dirge. “Cop Song” is another great use of puppet placement and space as fateful tales of woe are told.
The 11 voice actors are able to tell a big story on the small screen. Each character’s performance — singing, acting, and puppeteering — are well done. Officer Lockstock (Andrew Lloyd Baughman) and Little Sally (Felicia Lobo) work well together, with strong comedic timing and vocal quality to start the show on a solid foot (hand?). The fuzzy love of Bobby Strong (Mikey Bevarelli) and Hope Cladwell (Stefanie Garcia) is sweetly sung in “Follow Your Heart” while still channeling the campy nature of the dialogue.
The performers recorded parts individually and used Zoom to conduct rehearsals and creative sessions. Not every cast member had the same quality microphone for their recordings, as was apparent during “Follow Your Heart” and “Act One Finale.” Despite these issues, the storytelling and humor still come through, and the final product is extremely fun and well produced.
Director and Producer Andrew Lloyd Baughman (who handled all the puppeteering) had many factors to contend with for this production. The logistics required to coordinate actors and rehearsals, then arrange props, puppets, recording equipment, and time management are monumental. Kudos to Baughman and his team for this accomplishment!
Puppetry is an ensemble artform, especially when using live or large-scale puppets. Sock puppets allow performers to record individually but perform collaboratively. This production of Urinetown demonstrates how well these performers work together, even when apart.
Landless Theatre’s Puppet Theatre for Shut-Ins production of Urinetown: The Musical is available to stream On Demand at landlesstheatre.com. Tickets are $5 per device. Donations also accepted: all $50+ donations will receive a personalized “cameo style” video message from a puppet cast member; all $100+ donations will be sent a duplicate sock puppet of one of our Puppet Theatre for Shut-Ins troupe members. Visit www.landlesstheatre.com for details on the Landless Theatre Company’s season.
The talented cast members of Landless Theatre’s production of Urinetown: The Musical are Mikey Bevarelli (Bobby Strong), Stefanie Garcia (Hope Cladwell), Sidney Davis (Caldwell B. Cladwell), Karissa Swanigan (Penelope Pennywise), Andrew Lloyd Baughman (Officer Lockstock, Robby the Stockfish, and Billy Boy Bill), Felicia Lobo (Little Sally), Rachel Lockett (Soupy Sue, Senator Fipp), Julieta Gozalo (McQueen and Little Becky Two-Shoes), Honey Adraque (Mrs. Millenium and Tiny Tom), Ally Jenkins (Josephine Strong and Dr. Billeaux), and Matt Baughman (Old Man Strong, Officer Barrel, and Hot Blades Harry).