Review: Urinetown by Playhouse San Antonio
by Kurt Gardner
Despite its unsavory title (which even the characters make fun of), Urinetown: the Musical is a family-friendly show that contains a few mild double entendres and some groan-worthy toilet humor.
In a dystopian future, a 20-year drought has made private toilets unthinkable. The oppressed populace is forced to pay to use public facilities, all of which are controlled by the megacorporation Urine Good Company (UGC). The literally unwashed masses are waiting their turn at Public Amenity #9, which is run by the militaristic Penelope Pennywise and her compassionate assistant, Bobby Strong. When Bobby’s father, Old Man Strong, pleads with Penelope to let him use the facilities for free just one time, she refuses, insisting that the opportunity to relieve oneself is not a right but a privilege.
In an act of defiance, he takes care of business right on the street, only to be arrested by Officers Lockstock and Barrel, who haul him off to the fabled Urinetown.
Later, UGC’s CEO, Caldwell B. Cladwell, is plotting fee hikes for the toilet facilities with the corrupt Senator Fipp when his idealistic daughter Hope arrives to start work as the company’s new fax and copy girl. Eternally optimistic, she seems blithely unaware of her father’s shady business dealings.
As she makes her way home at the end of the day, she meets Bobby, who is angry at himself for not having done more to save his father. She is smitten by the handsome young man and advises him to follow his heart. It inspires him to start a full-on rebellion in which everyone, regardless of their station in life, can “pee for free.”
If this sounds like a bizarre concept for a musical, it is — but it’s also well realized and quite hilarious.
The Playhouse San Antonio’s production is superlative. The cast is terrific and all the voices are strong. Emily Cleveland brings a sweet naïveté to the role of Hope, and is well-matched by Brendan Brady as Bobby. Robby Vance and Leanne Ellis make an amusing team as the cynical Officer Lockstock and too-sweet Little Sally, who frequently break the fourth wall to offer explanations and apologies to the audience. The role of Cladwell was tailor-made for David Blazer, and he sings one of the funniest songs in the show, “Don’t Be the Bunny.” Corina Zars and Alex H. Coy IV also provide amusement as Penelope and Old Man Strong.
The show is packed with terrific songs that parody other Broadway musicals such as The Threepenny Opera and West Side Story. Director Tim Hedgepeth does an admirable job of keeping everything moving, as there are always many characters onstage and a lot going on. Andrew Hendley’s orchestra sounds far larger than five pieces, and Courtnie Mercer’s choreography shines. The costuming by Cordelia Rios is a standout, and Nicholas Ponting’s colorful scenic design and Dan “Doc” Heggem’s imaginative lighting provide the final flourish.
Urinetown: the Musical plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through May 28 at the Playhouse San Antonio, 800 West Ashby Place. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (210) 733-7258.
Kurt Gardiner's theatre reviews also appear at Blogcritics.org.
May 05 - May 28, 2017
800 West Ashby Place
San Antonio, TX, 78212
More forthcoming at www.theplayhousesa.org. (October, 2016)
Russell H Rogers Theater Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays