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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Urinetown
Mesa Encore Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Legally Blonde the Musical, Bare: A Pop Opera and Aida


Taylor Moskowitz and
Nicholas Gunnell

Photo by Sarah Rodgers
Mesa Encore Theatre's recent production of the hilarious satirical musical comedy Urinetown proved to be one of the best shows I've seen from this eighty year old company. With a fantastic cast and sublime direction that achieved the incredible task of ensuring the satire landed perfectly it was just a shame that this crowd-pleasing production only had a limited two week run.

Urinetown is set in the not too distant future. Water has become so scarce that private bathrooms have been banned and if you're caught doing your business in the street or even behind a tree you'll face severe consequences. A corporation has been put in charge of a series of pay toilets scattered across the land. These public facilities are scarce, so the lines are usually very long. Our young hero Bobby Strong believes that everyone should have the right to pee for free and he takes on the corporation who oversees the pay toilets while also falling for the beautiful, but not exactly bright, Hope Caldwell. When Bobby discovers Hope is the daughter of the owner of the money-hungry corporation he and his colleagues are fighting against, things don't look good for his cause or his romantic life. One of the policemen who oversees the public pay amenities is Officer Lockstock, who also serves as the narrator of this dark but very funny musical.

The show had a healthy run on Broadway and was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning three. Greg Kotis' hilarious book has plenty of twists and turns with a plot that doesn't always go where you think it will, along with fun, fleshed out characters. The witty score, with music by Mark Hollmann and lyrics by Hollmann and Kotis, is chock full of varied musical styles, including a haunting romantic ballad and a rousing gospel tune with bright, biting, clever and comical lyrics. Both the book and the score mock, parody and salute numerous famous musicals and musical conventions, including a heavy nod to the works of Brecht and Weill, especially The Threepenny Opera, and touch upon such topical issues as greed, capitalism, and even ecological disaster.

Director David Chorley did tremendous work to ensure his talented cast kept a perfect balance, walking the fine line between the serious and dark sides of the piece with the charming, romantic and comical ones. They also made sure that every scene and line was delivered in expert fashion. With the addition of some fun props, inventive staging, and distinctive and hilarious choreography from Sarah Wiechman, it was a non-stop comic fest, all played out on Kerry Jordan's simple but perfect post-apocalyptic set. CJ O'Hara's music direction delivered some beautiful vocals and harmonies from the large cast.

There wasn't a weak link in the cast, which was led by Nicholas Gunnell and Taylor Moskowitz as the mismatched hero and heroine, Bobby and Hope. Gunnell's ability to instill a resolute determination and winning disposition in his performance worked well to form a clear portrayal of this unusual leader of the downtrodden. Hope is supposed to be dimwitted and Moskowitz's continuous vacant looks and unknowing, empty-headed gestures were comic gold. Gunnell and Moskowitz' vocal abilities delivered lovely moments and they formed a realistic and endearing couple.

As Caldwell, Tim Paul Fiscus was the perfect balance of slimy and sweet. You never knew if he was the kind of man you should trust implicitly or if he'd kill your puppy. Heidi-Liz Johnson was a hoot as Penelope Pennywise, the fierce no-nonsense woman who doesn't take crap from anyone and oversees one of the poorest toilet facilities. Her solo of "It's a Privilege to Pee" was superbly delivered. As Lockstock, Mark Hackmann had the right ability to both mock and celebrate the show in his wittily delivered narration, while Alyssa Granger was a gem as Little Sally, who questions everything. Hector Coris was hilarious as the crazed Hot Blades Harry, while Angela Kabasan and Dan Marburger were comically delicious as Bobby's parents.

With how it combines satire, romance, comedy and drama, Urinetown is unlike so many other hit shows, but it is also extremely clever. With spot on direction and an exceptional cast, Mesa Encore Theatre's production made for an incredibly hilarious but also entirely charming theatrical endeavor.

Urinetown ran from May 19th to May 28th, 2017, at Mesa Encore Theatre with performances at the Mesa Arts Center at 1 East Main Street in Mesa. Tickets and and information on upcoming MET shows can be found by calling (480) 644-6500 or at mesaencoretheatre.com.

Producer: Pam Pershing
Director: David Chorley
Music Director: CJ O'Hara
Choreographer: Sarah Wiechman
Stage Manager: Wendy Smith
Technical Director/Set Designer: Kerry Jordan
Lighting Designer: Mat Stetler
Sound Designer: Tom Drewnowski
Properties: Amanda Holt
Costume Design: Diane Katz
Hair/Make-Up: Angela Kabasan

Cast:
Lawyer / Cop: Karissa Anderson
Mr. McQueen / Cop: Robert Andrews
Ms. Millennium: Katie Barnett
Hot Blades Harry: Hector Coris
Lawyer / Cop: Lacey Dixon
Lucy the Lima Bean: Megan Ellis
Caldwell B. Cladwell: Tim Paul Fiscus
Billy Boy Bill: Manny Frank
Little Sally: Alyssa Granger
Bobby Strong: Nicholas Gunnell
Officer Lockstock: Mark Hackmann
Bobby the Stockfish: Jackie Horn
Penelope Pennywise: Heidi-Liz Johnson
Hidalgo Jane: Julia Jordan
Tic-Toc McGee: Kerry Jordan
Josephine Strong: Angela Kabasan
Old Man Strong/Flippant Frank: Dan Marburger
Senator Fipp: Steve Morgan
Officer Barrel: Tad Morgan
Hope Caldwell: Taylor Moskowitz
Little Becky Two-Shoes: Kathleen Richards
Tiny Tom: Zachary Spencer
Lawyer / Cop: Faith Sterling
Lawyer / Cops: Corinne Tachuk
Soupy Sue: Chelsea Umeda
Flamingo Joe: Deryl Wayne
Dr. Billeaux / Cop: Eric Williams


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