I keep saying it: Musicals aren’t my thing. I go to them hoping the fairy dust will rub off somehow, and sometimes it does, but it never lasts long. I’m trying to be an open minded reviewer and see things that I normally wouldn’t see, so I can grow as a theater goer. Blah, blah, blah, whatever. I have seen Stillpointe shows in the past and although I’m not a fan of musicals, I am a fan of Stillpointe. And they did not disappoint with “Urinetown: The Musical”. Instead of their past theater space on Charles street in Station North, the show was produced in a lovely old church in Mount Vernon. Before the show started I had to do something we all take for granted: I had to pee.
In the not-so-distant future, a water shortage and a forever and a day drought has led to a government ban on private toilets. Has anyone ever heard of a Government ban being a good idea? I digress. The only way to “relieve yourself” is to pay to use a public bathroom, which in true musical style, is owned and operated by a single tyrannical company appropriately named The Urine Good Company (UGC) run by Mr. Caldwell B. Cladwell (Christopher Kabara). If the poor, who barely have enough money to eat let alone pee, don’t obey the laws or worse pee in the bushes (clutch the pearls!!) then they are sent to the dreaded and unknown place called “Urinetown”. Well the poor get sick of this shit and revolt with the help of a sweet, but driven leader Bobby Strong (Brice Guerriere). He then falls for the young, innocent of the world ingenue aptly named Hope Cladwell (Sarah Burton), the daughter of UGC president, and a forbidden love between star crossed lovers is born.
“Urinetown: The Musical” was a satire and the tongue and cheek nature appealed to me as a quasi musical fan. It was cheeky, made fun of itself, and often broke the fourth wall with an expositional and self-aware Narrator/Officer Lockstock (Danielle Robinette), and moral compass child Little Sally (Caitlin Rife). They knew they were in a musical and I appreciated the “you know and we know” wink in the show. The story was over the top and that was the point. One of my favorite scenes was during the revolution of the poor townspeople. They waved signs that read “No justice, no pee!”, had slow-mo fights with the police officers and even waved a French flag in formation like in the musical Les Miserables. Referencing a musical within a musical was a nice touch that even I got.
Danielle Robinette as Officer Lockstock was so fun to watch! My date had never seen Ms. Robinette perform before and immediately had a lady crush on her and I have to admit I do too! Danielle Robinette shined in her role as the no nonsense public pee enforcement officer. Her stage presence was steller, her characterizations were bold and dripping with sarcasm, and she was full of this palpable energy that I wish I could bottle up and sell on Ebay. And as a fellow Alto voice part, I was happy to hear her smooth lower register voice front and center on stage. She also helped smooth things over in character when an unfortunate lighting blackout happened at the start of Act 1. The church is fucking old and these things happen. Let me stop fangirling.
Playing a little girl has its challenges but Caitlin Rife did a wonderful job as Little Sally, the child with wisdom beyond her years. Her voice was crystal clear and her portrayal was sincere with spunk and “keep it realness.” Brice Guerriere was endearing as Bobby Strong, Sarah Burton was delightful as Hope Cladwell, and together they had great chemistry on stage. They made a cute, saccharine sweet yet really awkward couple. Their voices melded together well and the physical comedy in their love song had me cringing and laughing the whole time. Well done guys! Robert Harris (Senator Fipp) had me laughing every time he was on stage. The overboardness of his mannerisms and his willingness to go all in physically were a joy. Last but not least, I’d like to give a special shout out to the ensemble cast members. They were an amazing group of acting/singing/dancing triple threat actors who played multiple characters. My hat goes off to all of you for those quick costume changes, your ability to morph into a variety of characters and your energy while dancing and singing full out in a hot room. <Slow Clap>
Overall the performance of “Urinetown: The Musical” was well executed, thoughtful and fun, everything you want a musical to be. My one gripe about the performance was that it was very hard to hear the dialogue in the theater space. Unfortunately, the beautiful cathedral high ceilings in the church swallowed up the actors’ dialogue and some of the singing. The musical numbers were always full of energy, thanks to the stellar cast, but they were uneven from a plot perspective. I was a little unsure of what was going on during some of the songs and the lyrics were lost in translation. Maybe it was because it was hard to hear the dialogue leading up to the song and then it was hard to hear the actual lyrics. I put on my big girl pants, mustered through and tried to follow along. The first half of the show was fun and even my cold musical heart LoL’d; however, some of the gimmicks got a little old in the second act. The direction to have the actors lean in for the gag was a bit heavy handed. This paired with the lack of air conditioning and the inability to hear the dialogue caused my attention to start to wane. I’m sorry, I’m human. That’s not to say that the talent displayed on the stage wasn’t exceptional, but even great performances can be overcome by the room they perform in.
Choreography by Amanda Rife, Caitlin Rife, and Grace Anastasiadis was energetic and had a ‘20s flare to it. Charlestons, kicks, and flapper hands were abound. The dancing was supported by a pit that was jumping thanks to musicians Ben Shaver (keyboard), David Dochterman (trombone), Stacey Antoine (reeds), Cody Raum (bass) and Joseph Pipkin (percussion). The music was jazzy and preppy and filled the space. Costume designer Nicholas Staigerwald displayed costumes that were torn and bland in color and reminiscent of the midwestern Dust Bowl which I thought was appropriate and timely. Characters were also clad in a variety of suits, dresses, police outfits and lab coats which helped to support the story. Hair and make-up design by Danielle Robinette (OMG she does hair and make-up too!! I need her autograph) was fitting for the story. The smeared and dirty faces of the poor townsfolk was a nice touch. Lighting designer Adrienne Gieszl and projection designer Johnny Rogers were a good pair in transporting the audience via lighting. The lighting was crisp and evenly applied and the projections were unique, quirky and set the stage for each scene without having to move a lot of set pieces. Speaking of the set, Ryan Michael Haase’s scenic design was minimal and it worked. Throw some suitcases on a dolly, a clear plastic table and chair set for an office, a weathered table and cash register for the public restroom pay station and you have this futuristic, yet familiar world.
What happens when you disobey the law and go to Urinetown? What is Urinetown? Where is Urinetown? You’ll have to find out for yourself once you see the show. “Urinetown: The Musical” is not your typical musical. There is not a happy ending, but the songs were fun and light. Bad news sounds better when the music is upbeat right? “Urinetown: the Musical” was a unique, satirical commentary on theatre, politics, the environment and government control. It wasn’t until I started writing this review that I realized how deeply insightful this play was hidden underneath dance numbers and sarcastic dialogue. Was UGC the bad guy for monopolizing the market on bathrooms? Was the government wrong to ban private bathrooms all for the sake of saving water? Did the general population truly understand the ramifications of a revolution and peeing for free? Could an environmental crisis like the one in the show happen in real life? Told through a silly lens, “Urinetown: The Musical” was thought-provoking and timely in a world where the divide between “The People” and “The People in Power” is getting larger, transparency is waning and no one truly understands each other. Stillpointe Theatre has this innate ability to choose interesting shows and showcase good talent, both on the technical side and with the performers, which is why audiences keep coming back. “Urinetown: The Musical” was no exception. The show was captivating, well acted and bold. You will definitely think twice the next time you pee.
Should I stay or should I go? Go see this play if you are or aren’t a fan of musicals, like to laugh, enjoy the absurdity and thought generating nature of satire and/or want to hear killer music and singing from a fucking amazing cast and crew. But most importantly, sit near the front of the audience to catch the dialogue, make sure you wear lightweight clothing, bring a hand fan (or use the handy program fans provided by Stillpointe Theatre) and stay hydrated in the warm church hall. But don’t drink too much. You might miss something if you have to go to the bathroom mid-show. Now hold my drink, I have to pee again. (Z)
Running time: Approximately 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission. Now playing at Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church through July 14th.