Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Urinetown"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Beverly Creasey

Great Company at Lyric Stage

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

Who would have thought I’d be singing the praises of a show called URINETOWN. I’m more squeamish than most folks but I haven’t had such fun at the theater in a long time. If you saw the Broadway tour you didn’t see the real McCoy. The Lyric Stage is a much better venue for this intimate, up close and personal send-up of big business, government and monopolies. And they’re playing the heck out of it.

Collaborators Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis have written an old-fashioned “pastiche” musical with more than a nod to Kurt Weill and songs don’t get any more cynical than Brecht/ Weill’s. Come to think of it, if Brecht or Weill were around today, they would have written URINETOWN.

Even though you’re having a ball, you can’t help noticing the chilling irony of a musical about wholesale water pollution, privilege and an underclass who can’t afford to get out of the muck. When URINETOWN won all the Tony awards, it didn’t have the resonance it does now, post Katrina. (Does anyone really know where FEMA is shipping the survivors?)

In the musical they’d be sent to Urinetown, a destination no one knows very much about. What they do know is that no matter how foul it gets in Gotham (“after the STINK YEARS”), you don’t want to be sent to Urinetown. Anyone would be a fool to leave a place with Ilyse Robbins’ stunning choreography. (I don’t think there’s any dancing in Urinetown.) Almost every movement Robbins has invented elicits surprise and recognition (and she’s in the show too, tapping her heart out!). You’ll have a grand time picking out another Robbins’ choreography when the musical spoofing begins.

Spiro Veloudos directs cannily, bringing clarity to each scene, not the case at all in the Broadway tour. Each character stands out in Veloudos’ ensemble version. Musical director Jonathan Goldberg gets gorgeous singing from the entire cast. You’ll be blown away from the get-go. Like SWEENEY TODD before it, a blockbuster anthem opens the musical.

The characters are deliciously daft: Christopher Chew is hilarious and downright scary as the Officer in Charge/Narrator. Funnyman Robert Saoud brings up the rear, front and sides as his “men.” Veronica J. Kuehn is adorably innocent and smart as a whip as Little Sally with the BIG voice. Jennifer Ellis and Rob Morrison make a lovely romantic duo. (Kotis out-Brecht’s himself in the demise department but I can’t say any more. I’m not one of those people who told what Soylent Green was in the movie of the same name.)

Sean McGuirk is delightful as the nasty water closet mogul. Once you’ve heard his “Don’t Be The Bunny” you’ll be singing it to all your friends. Ditto Maryann Zschau’s “It’s a Privilege To Pee.” Everyone is in top form and how often do you see a musical where every character is on the money? All I can say is, URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL: It’s a privilege to see.

"Urinetown: The Musical" (9 September - 15 October)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 437-7172

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide