Urinetown The Musical Music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann. Book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. Directed by John Rando. Musical staging by John Carrafa. Scenic/environment design by Scott Pask. Costume design by Gregory Gale and Jonathan Bixby. Lighting design by Brian MacDevitt. Sound design by Jeff Curtis and Lew Meade. Cast: David Beach, Jennifer Cody, Rachell Coloff, Rick Crom, John Cullum, John Deyle, Hunter Foster, Victor W. Hawks, Erin Hill, Ken Jennings, Spencer Kayden, Daniel Marcus, Jeff McCarthy, Nancy Opel, Peter Reardon, Don Richard, Lawrence Street, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Kay Walbye.
There are precisely 16 reasons why you must immediately see Urinetown The Musical, which opened last night at Henry Miller’s Theatre. They are, in alphabetical order, David Beach, Jennifer Cody, Rachell Coloff, Rick Crom, John Cullum, John Deyle, Hunter Foster, Victor W. Hawks, Ken Jennings, Spencer Kayden, Daniel Marcus, Jeff McCarthy, Nancy Opel, Lawrence Street, Jennifer Laura Thompson, and Kay Walbye. Recent memory provides no comparable example of a musical with an equally dazzling and talented cast. (Yes, they are even better than the cast of last season’s The Producers.)
Any show which brings Ken Jennings (Old Man Strong/Hot Blades Harry), Jeff McCarthy (Officer Lockstock), and Nancy Opel (Penelope Pennywise) back to the Broadway stage is to be lauded. Here they are in top form, each in turn insidiously compelling and astonishingly funny. Newcomer Spencer Kayden (Little Sally) is giving a breakthrough performance which reminds one of, and is on a par with the legendary Fanny Bryce’s Baby Snooks.
Urinetown’s secret, as it were, and biggest success is its leading men, John Cullum (Caldwell B. Cladwell) and Hunter Foster (Bobby Strong). John Cullum is, to put it simply, one of Broadway’s greatest musical leads, and his return to the Broadway stage after far too long an absence is a personal triumph. In his commanding but deceptively understated performance style, Cullum can do more with an arched eyebrow or an evil grin than most other actors can do with the help of an entire chorus line.
Hunter Foster, Urinetown’s young hero, matches Cullum scene for scene and manages to masterfully carry Urinetown through some of its touchiest and most unsettling moments. His is a tour de force performance, which moves from strength to strength, and gives the musical’s attempts at subversive satire a much needed emotional touchstone.
Urinetown describes itself as an “absurdist melodrama about a city in the midst of a drought so devastating that a malevolent corporation has been able to take control of all the toilet facilities. Greed, corruption and betrayal run rampant and the public desperatley seeks relief.” Yes, it’s all that and less. The book, music, and lyrics remind one of nothing so much as an earnest academic exercise, reveling in a plethora of allusions to ill understood theatrical styles and traditions. Still, it has been enthusiastically directed by John Rando and the musical numbers have been staged with only occasionally excessive homage by John Carrafa. Scott Pask’s scenic and environmental design is appropriate to the proceedings. Gregory Gale and Jonathan Bixby’s costume designs are gloriously grubby. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting design is suitably dour.