Review: URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL at Theatre Memphis

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By: Oct. 27, 2021
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Review: URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL at Theatre Memphis

In the news, the ongoing debates about personal freedoms and the right to control one's own body are only getting louder and more divisive. Is healthcare a right? Do police officers in Chicago have the right to not get a Covid vaccine? Do audience members at Theatre Memphis have the right to not wear a mask during a performance?

Depending upon which side you're on, you're either a hero or a nutjob when it comes to defending basic, human liberties.

Theatre Memphis has opened a musical (yep, a musical) about a person's perhaps most basic right of all-the right to urinate/pee/piss/wizz/piddle or not for free. URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL (now through November 7th) chronicles a town that is so low on water that using private toilets has been forbidden and citizens must use public toilets for a fee. Having to pay to pee is a hardship on the poorer members of society, but the private company that runs these toilets ("Urine Good Company") is constantly looking for ways to raise the tinkling rates and will pay off members of the government to enforce the rules. Anyone caught peeing for free will be arrested and taken away to Urinetown-a place so terrible and frightening that no one has ever returned to tell the tale. Depending on your mood and penchant for allegorical tales, URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL could be seen as a deeply political, moralistic, and even religious take on current society...or just a silly musical romp about taking a leak. Hopefully, you'll see it as both!

Under the strong direction of Memphis' own tour-de-force comedic actress, Ann Marie Hall, URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL is full of winks and grins as it pays homage to such classics as LES MISERABLES, EVITA and even NBC's "The Office" ("Staying Alive"). With such a surprisingly crass topic as urination, Hall somehow keeps the show gleefully spirited, silly, and stylized throughout. Technically, Theatre Memphis still is at the top of its game. Scenic and property designer, Jack Yates has created a hit (yet again) with this massively dark and foreboding set that perfectly sets the stage for a dark, dank existence, while Mandy Kay Heath's lighting design is one of the best I've seen on a TM stage in a long time. Tammy Holt's tiny orchestra hits all the right notes and nicely supports this medium sized cast. Although this is not really a "dance heavy" show, Courtney Oliver's choreography gets better and better throughout while peaking with the wonderfully frenetic "Snuff That Girl" (Doesn't that sound like a fun dance song?) in Act 2.

Review: URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL at Theatre Memphis
Bruce Huffman as Bobby Strong

With lots of theatrical genres from which to steal (Greek Tragedy, Comedy and Melodrama) this cast always knows where they are from moment to moment and fully commits. Bruce Huffman (who literally grew up on every stage in town) plays the wholesome hero and good-doer, Bobby Strong. He's the straight man in a world full of eccentrics who just wants to do right by everyone and realizes that perhaps peeing shouldn't require a fee. He's the glue that holds the show together and shines most when allowing his voice to soar.

Review: URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL at Theatre Memphis
Brent Davis as Caldwell B. Cladwell

Brent Davis is the evil "fee to pee" collector Caldwell B. Cladwell. As a cross between short-man-syndromed Beverly Leslie on WILL AND GRACE and Dr. Evil from AUSTIN POWERS, Davis relishes kicking the little man when he's down. Although he's amusingly nasty (wearing an outfit only a pimp could love), he could have still played it much bigger--in a show like this, the bigger, the better.

Review: URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL at Theatre Memphis
Cassie Thompson as Penny Wise

Over the past several years, one of the most underrated and underappreciated performers in Memphis has consistently been Cassie Thompson. She can do it all (act, sing and dance) and, in this show about "number one," she gets to do all three! As the menacing, plunger-toting toilet guard, Penelope Wise (Penny Wise), she relishes the control she has over the less fortunate and manages to rip the roof off the building with her rendition of "It's A Privilege To Pee."

Review: URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL at Theatre Memphis
Carly Crawford as Little Sally

Carly Crawford delights in her scene-stealing limited time on the stage. As the naïve Little Sally, Crawford represents every child who needs to learn the lessons of this cold, cruel world and, she does it hilariously with just the right amount of awe, mixed with cynicism.

Review: URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL at Theatre Memphis
Caroline Simpson as Hope Cladwell

Ultimately, though, it's Caroline Simpson as the big-eyed optimist, Hope Cladwell who shines the most in this potty-tale adventure. She gets the joke and plays the part as the proverbial tied-to-a-train track-needing-to-be-rescued lass with the all-you-need-is-love spirit. Between her singing, acting and comedic timing, she puts the "gold" in "golden shower."

URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL packs a lot in a tight little bundle if you are inclined to detangle it all. However, whether it be simply enjoying the silliness of all the pee-pee jokes or appreciating the deeper meanings exposing the harshness of a capitalistic society, they both eventually run out of steam by the end-almost. The multiple plays on the word "urine" or the textbook displays of class warfare can both become somewhat wearisome after two hours, but, fortunately, this Theatre Memphis production tidies things up just in time to leave everyone in the audience still smiling. While the songs are less than memorable, the unusual topic combined with the top-notch performances and technical aspects are still sure to satisfy. What a relief!

Photo Credit: Carla McDonald


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