Also see Ann's review of The Chief
A trip to Paris and having to work pay toilet visits into his budget inspired Greg Kotis (book/lyrics) to collaborate with Mark Hollmann (music/lyrics) on a musical taking the subject to an extreme. The fruits of their labors, Urinetown, incorporates admitted Weill/Brecht influences with a darkly comedic book and a jumble of musical styles. Delivered with a big wink at the audience and plenty of narrative exposition (maybe a little too much exposition, Little Sally), Urinetown encourages the audience to laugh along at the absurdity of the situation: a corrupt corporation (Urine Good Company) takes advantage of its citizens by charging for toilet use to the point where many can no longer afford it and are dealt with fatally by a "trip to Urinetown." The head of the corporation is the hardhearted Caldwell B. Cladwell (Ron Holgate), who alienates even his own daughter Hope (Christiane Noll) after she falls for the citizens' great hope, the rebellious Bobby Strong (Charlie Pollock) who tries to lead an insurrection against the oppressive corporation. The story has a few holes, and the characters are not deeply developed, but it's useless to take any of it seriously; it's much easier to sit back, laugh and enjoy the antics of the slightly daft characters on stage.
The key to the success of this show is in the casting of the narrators, Officer Lockstock and Little Sally. As Lockstock, Tom Hewitt wins the audience immediately with his amused yet knowing portrayal, delivering this lampoonery with genius physical contortions as well as a fabulous, deep voice. Meghan Strange plays Lockstock's sidekick, the waiflike Little Sally, who is more aware than any other character, often saying what the audience must be thinking. Both of these actors more than meet the challenge of holding together the pieces of the story.
As the sweet airhead Hope Cladwell, graduate of The Most Expensive University in the World, Christiane Noll shows superb comic talents and, as always, a most glorious singing voice. Charlie Pollock starts out with little spark, but soon develops his own interpretation of Bobby Strong, drawing on understated comedy bits. Ron Holgate is a wonderful choice for Cladwell. His portrayal reminds me of the late Richard Mulligan as he seems to be holding things together on the edge of insanity. Holgate's considerable talents extend to song and dance in the unforgettable "Don't Be the Bunny."
Other standouts in the cast are Leslie Kritzer (Little Becky Two Shoes/Mrs. Millennium), Beth McVey (Penelope Pennywise), and Jamie Laverdiere (in the too slight role of Mr. McQueen).
The well done prison-like set by Scott Pask is surprising in size for a tour, with one adaptable piece which services as the back wall of Cladwell's office and the outer wall of Amenity #9. Costumes by Gregory A. Gale and Jonathan Bixby are appropriate, and lighting by Brian MacDevitt is very effective. Music by Jason DeBoard (who makes a great entrance) and The Urinetown Band is excellent.
With a funny and diverse score (sometimes the audience begins laughing upon hearing the intro) giving everyone a chance to ham it up, Urinetown is light comedy with dark overtones (particularly in the surprise afterword).
Urinetown runs through November 30 at the Benedum Center, then it continues to Kansas City MO (12/1-12/7), Chicago IL (12/8-12/21), Baltimore MD (12/29-1/4), Boston MA (1/5-1/18) and Cleveland OH (1/19-2/1). For tickets and information, phone 412.456.6666 or visit www.pgharts.org. For more information on the tour, visit the Urinetown Tour Website.
Urinetown. Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollmann, Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotis. Directed by John Rando. Musical Staging by John Carrafa. Scenic Design Scott Pask. Costume Design Gregory A. Gale and Jonathan Bixby. Lighting Design Brian MacDevitt. Orchestrations Bruce Coughlin.
Cast (in order of appearance): Tom Hewitt, Meghan Strange, Beth McVey, Charlie Pollock, Christiane Noll, Jamie Laverdiere, Dennis Kelly, Jim Corti, Christopher Youngsman, Katie Adams, Leslie Kritzer, Todd A. Horman, Frank Holmes, Anne Allgood, Richard Ruiz, Ron Holgate.
The Urinetown Band: Conductor/Piano Jason DeBord. Owen Kotler, Kevin M. McManus, Ed Shea, Jason Lindsay.