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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Urinetown
National Tour at the Paramount

Urinetown
Christiane Noll and
Charlie Pollock

Brimming over with Brecht, Weill and in-jokey references to all things musical comedy, Urinetown deservedly won the 2002 Tony Awards for book, music and lyrics, and it was a perfect fit, in size and scope, for the now shuttered Henry Miller theatre in Manhattan. The national touring company received a hearty welcome from a hipper than usual audience at the Paramount, though a few walkouts did occur at intermission. Composer/lyricist Mark Hollmann and librettist/lyricist Greg Kotis may not have written a show that is as funny or as darkly satirical as it could have been, but it is still one of the more felicitous musicals of the present decade.

A smug, smarmy narrator named Officer Lockstock tells the tale of a town where people have to pay for the privilege to, well, pee. Bobby Strong, an earnest junior official at one of the seedier pay toilets turns revolutionary after his father breaks the law (by urinating on the street) and is taken away to the mystical Urinetown. Of course Bobby falls into a pre-doomed romance with the perky Hope Cladwell, just returned from college to work for her big business magnate father Caldwell B. Cladwell, whose corporation controls the pay toilets. Also in the mix are Bobby's boss, the floozyish Penelope Pennywise, who has a rather maternal interest in Hope, and Little Sally, an eerily wise beyond her years moppet who serves as a sardonic sidekick to Officer Lockstock when she is not teaming up with Bobby's band of free pee activists. What and where is Urinetown? We find out pretty quickly, but the show grows more and more wackily engaging as Bobby and his band kidnap Hope, and the action escalates to an inevitably dark but not depressing conclusion.

The national tour is sharply directed by John Rando, with tasty tongue-in-cheek musical staging by John Carrafa, modifying their Broadway assignments only to accommodate the larger playing space at venues like the Paramount. The cast presently features the smashing work of Broadway's original Officer Lockstock, Jeff McCarthy. Swiveling his hips and preening like an aging Elvis impersonator, McCarthy scores a bullseye with his every laugh line, and displays his impressive vocal range to good effect. Charlie Pollock is a quirkily engaging Bobby Strong, and heads up the smashing act two showstopper "Run Freedom, Run" with vocal panache. Christiane Noll, known primarily as a stellar Broadway vocalist, is a comedic revelation as Hope and effortlessly charms with her delivery of such songs as "Follow Your Heart." Ron Holgate is a vivaciously venal Senator Cladwell, though his big number "Don't Be the Bunny" (like many other songs and lines on opening night) was hampered by a muddy sound system. Beth McVey plays Miss Pennywise with an agreeably broad comic style and a rich, rangy vocal delivery, and Meghan Strange most appropriately channels Wednesday Addams in her approach to the role of Little Sally.

Ensemble standouts included Dennis Kelly's nervous Senator Fipp, Jamie Laverdiere's effete Mr. McQueen, Kirsten Wyatt's bombastic Little Becky Two Shoes, and Anne Allgood's wisely understated Mrs. Strong. Just as in New York, the cast of this Urinetown works harder and earns its standing ovation more justifiably than you will see in most musicals that rely more on high-tech effects and design.

The appropriately dingy and dreary scenic design of Scott Pask has been effectively enlarged for the tour, and the costume design by Gregory A. Gale and Jonathan Bixby is a campy delight. The versatile band, led by Jason DeBord, does a remarkable job of sounding like way more than five people.

Though several good gags and too many lines and lyrics are shortchanged, Urinetown is still a solid entertainment bet, and I can't wait to see if its authors can make lightning strike again with the planned prequel and sequel, not to mention the proposed movie version. Bette Midler as Pennywise, anyone?

Urinetown runs through May 30 at the Paramount Theatre, 9th and Pine in Downtown Seattle. For more information visit the Paramount Theatre online at www.theparamount.com.


Photo: Joan Marcus



- David-Edward Hughes



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