Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Urinetown: The Musical"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


book and lyrics by Greg Kotis
music and lyrics by Mark Hollman
directed by Spiro Veloudos
musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg
choreography by Ilyse Robbins

Officer Lockstock … Christopher Chew
Penelope Pennywise … Maryann Zschau
Bobby Strong … Rob Morrison
Little Sally … Veronica J. Kuehn
Dr. Billeaux; Tiny Tom … Andrew Miramontes
Mr. McQueen … Timothy Smith
Senator Fipp … Peter Edmund Haydu
Officer Barrel … Robert Saoud
Hope Cladwell … Jennifer Ellis
Old Man Strong; Hot Blades Harry … Peter A. Carey
Soupy Sue; Cladwell’s Secretary … Michele A. DeLuca
Little Becky Two-Shoes; Mrs. Millennium; Dance Captain … Ilyse Robbins
Robby the Stockfish; UGC Exec … Bobby Cronin
Caldwell B. Cladwell … Sean McGirk
Josephine Strong; Old Woman … Ellen Peterson
Billy Boy Bill; UGC Exec … Matthew Kossack
Swings … Ariel Heller; Haley Roth

Piano … Jonathan Goldberg
Reeds … Louis Toth
Trombone; Euphonium … Stefan Demetriadis
Bass … Brian Grochowski
Percussion … Zack Hardy

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston opens its fall season with URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL, a most astonishing work. This satire of Big Business vs. The Little People could well become America’s own THREEPENNY OPERA and proves that there is still plenty of life, wit and invention left in this ever-evolving art-form. The plot is pure comic book: Caldwell B. Cladwell, the corrupt owner of Urine Good Company (UGC) exploits his city’s water shortage by banning private toilets and charging the citizens a fee to use the public restrooms; those who buck the system are carted off to the dreaded “Urinetown”. The idealistic Bobby Strong leads a rebellion against UGC despite falling in love with Cladwell’s daughter Hope; the evening does not conclude as expected but is far too cheeky to succumb to pessimism or despair. URINETOWN’s satire remains consistent without losing its smiling bite; even more astonishing is the fact that the influences of Bertoldt Brecht (his alienation theories), Mark Blitzstein (THE CRADLE WILL ROCK) and the gods of the Golden Age of the American Musical can be felt throughout yet Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman serve up an entertainment with a flavor all its own and sharp enough to awaken today’s jaded palettes. None of URINETOWN’s songs may ever hit the Top 40 charts but they are catchy and work brilliantly in context; the score’s many highlights include the self-serving tribute “Mr. Cladwell”, the nightmarish “Cop Song” accented with flashlights and, especially, the gospel-rich “Run, Freedom, Run!”, as joyous a showstopper if ever there was one and, ironically, far more heartfelt than the one in the feel-good ABYSSINIA.

I did not see the original New York production but was not surprised when told that the Lyric mounting is much, much better for director Spiro Veloudos and choreographer Ilyse Robbins are inspired in their serving up URINETOWN’s grubby, high-stepping fun. Mr. Veloudos keeps everything properly cold and unlovable and Ms. Robbins’ footwork has the ensemble spinning, hopping and kicking like pros. Rafael Jaen’s raggedy costumes go hand-in-hand with Janie E. Howland’s junkyard-playground and Karen Perlow’s lighting scheme ranges from bodily fluids to compost grey. The ensemble, composed of Lyric regulars and newcomers, couldn’t have been bettered, easily rivaling New Repertory’s cast for INTO THE WOODS this past spring: as the narrating policeman, Christopher Chew captures enough of his wild-eyed craziness from SpeakEasy’s THE WILD PARTY that made my first encounter with him so memorable and Maryann Zschau’s Penelope Pennywise hints at the Weill singer Ms. Zschau could become if given a chance. Rob Morrison and Jennifer Ellis neatly balance the sugar-and-salt sides of their star-crossed lovers (Ms. Ellis has a funny, lovely moment evoking black gospel singing); my only nitpick is Veronica J. Kuehn as Little Sally. Ms. Kuehn enchanted as New Rep’s relentlessly perky Little Red Riding Hood (INTO THE WOODS); here, she has begun to evolve that performance into a persona and a cute, calculated one, at that --- if not held in check, she could become just another Camp sooner than she thinks. And sooner than Boston needs.

Looking over my press kit notes, I read that URINETOWN has been described as “the musical for people who hate musicals”. Whoever made that statement couldn’t be farther from the truth, especially when the same charge can be leveled at many of today’s offerings. URINETOWN is one of the best things in years, despite its title and its subject matter. If you love musicals --- especially those that give you old-fashioned pleasure --- then, believe me: you will love URINETOWN. No shit.

"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