BWW Review: Don't Be the Bunny, Go See URINETOWN at ACT
Since the joint production between the 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT of "Urinetown" was announced I heard far too often from people that they wouldn't want to see that. A stupid musical about pee? "I don't care for shows that are all bathroom humor," I would hear. And I'd have to defend this wonderful show explaining that it's a super funny, well written show, yes with peeing as the basic setting, but that it was so much more as it pokes fun at government corruption and is an homage to famous musicals who came before. I guess Little Sally from "Urinetown" was right that nothing can kill a show faster than bad subject matter or a bad title. But then her stating that is why this self-referential, meta show works so well. It knows it's ridiculous and it embraces it. And the same could be said for this wonderful production that went for every bad joke with brilliant comic timing and then some.
Now let's talk about that story from Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis. It's quite a simple little melodrama in that there's a severe water shortage in this town and so the government, steered by the evil Caldwell B. Cladwell (Kurt Beattie) have instituted public toilets for people to take care of their business that they must pay to use. And it's not like you can just go in the bushes. If you're caught, the authorities such as Officer Lockstock (Brandon O'Neill), who also serves as the show's narrator, and Officer Barrel (Matthew Posner) will find you and send you to the dreaded Urinetown from which no one has ever returned. But young Bobby Strong (Mikko Juan), who works for Miss Pennywise (Mari Nelson) at one of the poorer amenities, has had enough and begins a rebellion when his father is taken off to Urinetown for not being able to pay. His uprising is made more difficult when he meets and falls in love with Hope Cladwell (Sarah Rose Davis), fresh home from college and full of grand ideas.
The show as directed by Bill Berry is about as close to perfection as you're going to get. The genius choreography from Charlie Johnson with its sharp edges and overly exaggerated style makes for the perfect look in this dystopian melodrama and is beautifully complemented by Melanie Taylor Burgess' cartoonish costuming and the bleak yet comical lighting and sound design from Robert Aguilar and Justin Stasiw. And the music direction from R.J. Tancioco keeps the energy vibrant and alive throughout the show.
The stunning ensemble cast nails every moment and even brought in a few I hadn't seen before. And with most of them playing multiple roles and switching from desperate good guys to greedy bad guys on a dime, their characterizations abound. Nathaniel Tenenbaum gives us a hilarious sycophant as the screeching Mr. McQueen which complements the comedy gold of the greedy Senator Fipp played by Chris Enseweiler. Sarah Russell and Brian Lange stop the show (literally) as the way too pregnant Little Becky Two Shoes and the psychotic Hot Blades Harry as they scheme about winning at all costs. Leslie Law makes for the perfect beleaguered Mother as Josephine Strong. Andi Alhadeff manages her own kind of crazy as Soupy Sue. Arika Matoba is adorably inquisitive as the ever-present Little Sally. And I must mention the comedy gold of Posner who brought us a pervy German Office Barrel.
And when looking at the leads, each one brought in their own level of insanity. Nelson's staunch Miss Pennywise blew everyone away especially when she let loose that voice. O'Neill with his tiny evil mustache and superior stage presence made for the perfect Officer Lockstock as well as the perfect narrator keeping the tone of the world alive. Beattie brought in an absolutely wonderful baddie with his overlay animated evil. And Davis and Juan made for adorable star-crossed lovers with their high ideals. Davis brings in the funny coupled with that killer voice making her a force to be reckoned with. And Juan lead the show with aplomb and youthful exuberance, making him a joy to watch.
"Urinetown" is not a show that's done a lot and certainly not by a big professional company. And when it's done this well it makes this a must see. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the 5thAvenue Theatre and ACT production of "Urinetown" an "I almost peed laughing" YAY+. Tickets are selling fast but they just added some dates so don't let this one pass you by.
"Urinetown" from the 5thAvenue Theatre and ACT performs at ACT through June 2nd. For tickets or information visit the 5th Avenue Theatre at www.5thavenue.org or ACT at www.acttheatre.org or contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676.