Review of Urinetown at New Line Theatre

    Urinetown is smart, sassy, and relentlessly metatheatrical—that is, it calls attention to the fact that it is theater piece. These qualities put the musical in the wheelhouse of New Line Theatre, whose current staging of Urinetown is a thorough delight.

    The dystopian satire’s action takes place after 20 years of drought in a not-so-distant future. Water is so scarce that private toilets have been outlawed. People must pay to use public amenities that are controlled by private corporation, the Urine Good Company.

    At the start of show, Old Man Strong doesn’t have the fee to use Public Amenity Number Nine, where his son, Bobby, is the assistant to the stern custodian, Penelope Pennywise. After pleading unsuccessfully to use the facility just once for free, Old Man Strong can’t hold out any longer. For the offence of relieving himself against a wall, he exiled to a place called Urinetown.

    Inspired by his father’s example and by his burgeoning love for Hope Cladwell, Bobby launches an uprising and seizes control of Amenity Number Nine for the benefit of the people. A complicated factor in the rebellion is that Hope’s father, Caldwell B. Cladwell is the head of Urine Good Company.

    If this plot strikes you as an odd one for musical, you aren’t alone. Two of the characters, Officer Lockstock and Little Sally, have an ongoing discussion on musical theater construction during the show. Urinetown is a musical that makes fun of itself along with other objects of satire, including corporate greed and the human inability to make sacrifices for the greater good.

    Under codirectors Scott Miller and Chris Kernan, the splendid New Line cast displays a sure grip on the style required to bring out the cheeky spirit of the book by Greg Kotis and the lyrics by Kotis and Mark Hollmann, who wrote the music. Kent Coffel is serenely self-possessed as Officer Lockstock, who knows his position is unassailable because he is the narrator as well as a policeman. Jennelle Gilreath nails Little Sally’s curious mixture of innocence and insightfulness.

    Kevin Corpuz as Bobby and Melissa Felps as Hope admirably capture the idealism of the young romantic couple. Todd Schaefer is the epitome of smugness as the ruthlessly pragmatic Cladwell. Sarah Gene Dowling’s Pennywise exploits the full comic potential of the character’s toughness.

    The fine supporting performers includes Marshall Jennings as Officer Barrel, Clayton Humburg as Mr. McQueen, Colin Dowd as Senator Fipp, Mara Bollini as Bobby’s mother, Zachary Allen Farmer as Bobby’s father and Hot Blades Harry, Grace Langford as Little Becky Two Shoes, Ian McCreary as Tiny Tom, Chris Moore as Billy Boy Bill, Christopher Strawhun as Robbie the Stockfish, and Jessica Winingham as Soupy Sue.

    The balance between the unamplified voices and the New Line Band is nicely managed by music director and conductor Tim Clark on the keyboard. Also in the accomplished band are Kelly Austermann (reeds) Tom Hanson (trombone), Clancy Newell (percussion), and John Gerdes (bass).

    Todd Schaefer’s scenic design includes a rotating central piece that provides easy transitions from dilapidated settings to the corporate offices of Urine Good Company. Miller and Kernan’s direction and Kernan’s choreography add to the fun in a number scenes by moving the action off the stage and into the audience. Sarah Porter’s costumes, Kenneth Zinkl’s lighting, Kimi Short’s props, and Ryan Day’s sound add to the show’s impact.

    Urinetown continues through June 25 in the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

    Penelope Pennywise (Sarah Gene Dowling, left) demands a fee from Josephine Strong (Mara Bollini) in New Line Theatre’s Urinetown.