BWW Reviews: Stray Dog Theatre's Superb Production of URINETOWN
Urinetown is a satirical musical based on the idea that an ecological disaster could create a situation whereby individuals have to pay for the opportunity to eliminate their wastes in public amenities. If that sounds like an odd concept, you're right, it is. And, with it's grungy atmosphere and grimy costuming, it might seem unappealing. But, Urinetown works because it makes fun of itself, and the conventions of musical theatre, while actually managing to communicate a potent message about conserving our resources and being socially responsible. There's also the clever, dense lyrics and engaging melodies of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann. Stray Dog Theatre's current production is excellent and because of it drawing sell-out crowds the run has been extended.
A twenty year drought causes a water shortage, and in an act of extreme conservation the law forces citizens to cough up cash at a public toilet if they want to take care of their biological business. These facilities are run by the Urine Good Company, and its chief executive, Caldwell B. Cladwell, who is continually raising the fees in order to line his coffers and pay off the greedy political machine he has in his back pocket. He finds himself at odds with our hero, Bobby Strong, when the lad incites a riot, and demands that the people be allowed to pee freely. Strong also wins the heart of his daughter, Hope, who finds herself torn between her father, and her new love.
Antonio Rodriguez does fine work as Bobby Strong and Jennifer Theby is a bundle of enthusiasm as Hope, and does a fine job on “Follow Your Heart”, as she duets with him. Christopher Brenner is a decent choice to portray Caldwell B. Cladwell, but he's one of the few actors that's hard to hear over the music tracks. Keith Thompson makes a strong impression as Officer Longstock, the narrator of this piece. His wisecracks and amusing asides are designed to keep things light, especially in view of the possible weight of this subject matter, and that's achieved here. Berklea Going is awfully cute as Little Sally, who also adds to the running commentary as she questions Longstock during his narrative forays. Josh Douglas hams it up nicely as Officer Barrel. Deborah Sharn is exceptional as Penelope Pennywise, the operator of Amenity #9. She grabs attention early with a powerful take on “It's a Privilege to Pee”.
A strong supporting cast includes: Michael Brightman, J.T. Ricroft, Ryan Cooper, Lindsey Jones, Anna Skidis, Jessica Tilghman, Jeffrey Wright, Sabra Sellers, and C.E. Fifer.
Directors Justin Been and Gary Bell have crafted a successful production with their excellent work here. Chris Peterson's vocal direction is also sharp, with the ensemble work coming through near perfectly. J. T. Ricroft's choreography makes good use of the small stage, and Tyler Duenow's lighting is well done, as always. Justin Barisonek's set design is very well done, and sets a suitably grungy mood immediately. Alexandra Scibetta Quigley's costumes add a nice dash of color to the proceedings.
Greg Cotis (book and lyrics) and Mark Hollman (music) have crafted a superb satire, with memorably catchy songs, that manages to not only poke fun at political sacred cows, but also itself. Stray Dog's wonderful production continues through February 25, 2012 at the Tower Grove Abbey and tickets are going fast!