Urinetown | New Line Theater

theat_urineIgnited by the flame in Hope's heart, Bobby leads a rebellion to "free the pee" and abolish an empire built on taking advantage of the most basic human need.

 

 

 

 

Art Loft Theater | 06.01.07
Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollmann
Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotts
Directed by Scott Miller

As a lifetime fan of musical theater, and particularly musicals that go against the grain of the traditional, I was very excited to see Urinetown at the highly intimate Art Loft Theater. I read much buzz about this unconventional musical when it first became a hit on Broadway, winning three Tony awards in 2002, and I was not disappointed.  New Line Theater's production of this biting satire of politics, capitalism, corporate greed, environmental crises and, most importantly, of musical theater itself, was first-rate, particularly the extremely talented cast.

What is Urinetown? That's the question that plagues most of the characters in this fictional Gotham where a water shortage has caused a severe draught, leading the government to outlaw private bathroom facilities. Citizens are forced to pay a fee to use public "amenities" run by the Urine Good Company (UGC), a corrupt corporation run by dirty, rotten scoundrel Caldwell B. Cladwell, portrayed with spunk and sass by Jeffrey Pruett. Cladwell pays off the government to hike up fees and cops to enforce the absurd laws.

The poor citizens who "rebel" against the laws by using the streets or bushes instead, are punished by being exiled to the mysterious Urinetown, never to be seen nor heard from again. The people have no idea what Urinetown really is, but they live in constant fear of being sent there.

When Cladwell's doe-eyed, dreamy young daughter, the appropriately named Hope (Isabel Pastrana) returns from "The Best College in the World" to work for her father as a fax/copy girl at UGC, she stirs up the heart and mind of young Bobby Strong (played brilliantly by Khnemu Menu-Ra), an amenities worker whose own father was exiled to Urinteown. Ignited by the flame in Hope's heart, Bobby leads a rebellion to "free the pee" and abolish an empire built on taking advantage of the most basic human need.

The story of Urinetown is a social and political satire, but the play itself is a satire of traditional, Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals like Oklahoma!  It takes this model and makes a complete mockery of it from beginning to end, even being so bold as to directly address the audience and make jokes about the plot. Some of the best of these exchanges occur between narrator Officer Lockstock (Matthew Korinko) and infinitely wise child Little Sally (a show-stealing Amy Leone), such as when Lockstock reminds Sally that "This is not a happy musical," to which she replies, "But the music is so happy."

Sally is right, the music is happy, even if the musical isn't. And the music is what makes this complete farce a serious piece of musical theater. The songs are right up there with some of the best, catchiest tunes in Broadway history, particularly the hilarious "Cop Song," Cladwell's "Don't Be the Bunny," and gospel number "Run, Freedom, Run."

Although there are no happy endings in Urinetown, the mystery is surprisingly revealed near the end of Act II. Of course, I'd never spoil the fun by telling you here. What I can tell you is that this musical is completely original, bitingly smart, hysterically funny, delightfully silly and just plain fun. Oh, and you'll also gain a new appreciation for that tiny little room with a toilet in your house.

Finally, I would be completely remiss if I didn't mention the added bonus the audience got for attending this particular performance. Just after the final bows, actor Nick Kelly (Senator Fipp) unexpectedly proposed to the love of his life, actress Amy Leone (Little Sally) right there on stage in full costume. He dropped to one knee, produced a little velvet box, she excitedly accepted, and the audience gave them a standing ovation as they kissed and walked off stage. Now that is a happy ending. | Amy Burger

Urinetown runs at the Art Loft Theater, Thurs. thru Sat., May 31-June 23, 2007, at 8 p.m. every night, Tickets: 314-534-1111 or Metrotix online

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