Review: URINETOWN: The Musical. Music & Lyrics by Mark Hollman. Book & Lyrics by Greg Kotis. Produced by the 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT- A Contemporary Theatre. Directed by Bill Berry. Choreographed by Charlie Johnson. Music Direction by R.J. Tancioco. Scenic Design by Martin Christoffel. Costume Design by Melanie Taylor Burgess. Lighting Design by Robert Aguilar. Sound Design by Justin Stasiw. With Andi Alhadeff, Kurt Beattie, Sarah Rose Davis, Chris Ensweiler, Mikko Juan, Brian Lange, Leslie Law, Arika Matoba, Mari Nelson, Brandon O’Neill, Matthew Posner, Sarah Russell, and Nathaniel Tenenbaum. Onstage at ACT from April 6 to June 2, 2019.
The 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT have been partnering up for the last nine years to co-produce smaller/more intimate musical theater pieces (in one of ACT’s theater spaces) that wouldn’t work very well in the 5th Avenue’s huge venue. They’ve been a mixed bag over the years; I’ve actually seen all nine of them and there have been a couple of real dogs and several that were “ok” and really only two that I liked a lot: 2014’s charming production of Little Shop of Horrors and….this year’s recently opened Urinetown which runs through June 2nd.
There might be a reason why “Little Shop” and Urinetown are my favorites…they’re actually beloved shows for many people, largely because of their cheeky, off Broadway cheesy charms. Both were fresh new works from fresh new talents and they created clever, winsome musicals with very funny books and both have lovely scores full of catchy tunes, something you don’t get much of nowadays.
There are other similarities…both take place in squalid, urban slums albeit cartoon-y ones and satirize class struggles and capitalism, along with campy horror films with the case of “Little Shop” and every musical theater trope known in existence in Urinetown. And, I would imagine that both are huge amounts of fun for actors to perform. They’re big, loud, and crazy fun shows.
Urinetown is…well, Little Sally, I’m going to be lazy and let the fine publicity folks over at the 5th Avenue/ACT summarize the plot of his hideously titled show:
This hilarious multi-Tony Award® nominee/winner is an outrageous satire set in a fictional future where a terrible 20-year drought has crippled the city’s water supplies. The citizens must now use the public pay-per-use amenities owned and operated by Urine Good Company. Citizens who try to circumvent the peeing-fee by relieving themselves in the bushes risk being taken away to “Urinetown,” a mysterious place where many have been sent but no one ever returns. With fee increases in the pipeline, the poor rise up to fight the tyrannical to make the public amenities free for all to use. Urinetown is a hilarious tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution.
That’s the show in a nutshell but to get more specific, it centers on a couple (of course) from different worlds who “meet cute” and vow to save their city. He’s Bobby Strong, a child of the slums who watches in horror, as the show begins, as his father is taken away to the dreaded “Urinetown” which is a horrible metaphor for something….not nice.
She’s Hope Cladwell and she’s the pretty but naive daughter of the show’s apparent villain, Caldwell B. Cladwell who owns the Urine Good Company. The rest of the cast is made up of folks on both sides of the conflict, or to simplify things, the folks who are being exploited and the ones doing the exploiting. There’s the preternaturally precocious youngster Little Sally who has a tendency to confound Officer Lockstock, a local enforcer of the town’s strict water laws, with questions not easily answered while questioning some of the choices being made by the musical itself…Little Sally ain’t afraid to question the taste levels of naming an evening of musical theater, “Urinetown”.
And, that’s a huge part of the charm of Urinetown….its cheeky attitude towards the material and the very nature of musical theater is constantly being being commented on or called onto question. It’s also the kind of show that delights in BREAKING the conventions of musical theater, or of theater itself…Urinetown ain’t afraid to kill off the supposedly unkillable!
There’s also the sneaky messages inserted throughout the show. Caldwell B. Cladwell is a horrible despot and the rules being enforced seem draconian but by the end of the play we also learn that while dictatorships aren’t a great way to run things, total freedom can also lead to disaster as well.
I hope we all learned a lesson here, Little Sally!
So, it’s a cute show with a message or two and a witty script and big, colorful larger than life characters and even the songs are tuneful and amusing and there’s a good reason that Urinetown has entered the pantheon of Great Musicals….it is one! (And, it should be noted, there are people who don’t like this show; the fact it’s a show about peeing, does turn a few people off. Those people are uptight and were probably failures at potty training but…so pee it.)
And, ACT and the 5th Avenue have come up with a winning production here, well staged by the 5th Avenue’s Producing Artistic Director Bill Berry and jauntily choreographed by Charlie Johnson. It’s a simply but handsomely designed show which centers on a multi-platformed huge center staircase, designed by Martin Christoffel and lighted by Robert Aguilar. The costumes by Melanie Taylor Burgess are a cartoony delight. And, the orchestra is only four people but they sound great under the direction of R.J. Tancioco, who is also on the keyboards.
The 13 person acting ensemble is very good with the cast being divided between three couples as leading roles and the other 7 actors playing many roles each…there’s a lot of running around with actors quickly changing costumes from “good guys” to “not so good guys”. This ensemble is really terrific with great work from all of them: Andi Alhadeff, Chris Ensweiler, Brian Lange, Leslie Law, Matthew Posner, Sarah Russell and Nathaniel Tenenbaum.
As for the leads, all six are a delight with a charming romantic lead couple, played by Sarah Rose Davis and Mikko Juan as both stereotypes of “Romantic Lead Couples in a Musical” but with tongues fully planted in cheek. Plus, they’re strong enough performers to be able to compete with the other four bigger than life characters who tend to dominate the stage and the comedy scenes. Kurt Beattie is deliciously evil as the scheming Cladwell and Mari Nelson is appropriately mysterious as Penelope Pennywise, who has a secret or three up her sleeves. And, then there’s that mouthy Little Sally, so sardonically played by the excellent Arika Matoba and Seattle musical theater veteran Brandon O’Neill having a great deal of fun as the show’s narrator stalwartly officious Officer Lockstock (btw, his partner is named Officer Barrel…get it?) Lockstock and Sally’s bits are, as always, chief highlights for this show.
It’s all deliciously naughty satirical fun for the entire family…if they were correctly potty trained and don’t have issues with that awful title. Highly recommended as a treat of the highest order.