Wright State University delivers a delightful production of composer/lyricist Mark Hollmann and lyricist/librettist Greg Kotis’ 2001 Tony Award-winning Urinetown: The Musical, a smart, witty and irreverent spoof of musical theater and corporate greed.
More topical than ever as talk of corruption fills the headlines, Urinetown concerns a terrible water shortage in a Gotham-esque city. A 20-year drought has made private toilets illegal so all must pay to pee. The evil Caldwell B. Cladwell, CEO of Urine Good Company who has fond if salacious memories of the scandalous “stink years,” has set a price for the use of public toilets. However, when he implements a fee hike the good-natured Bobby Strong rallies his fellow citizens to take action. A comical revolt ensues, ultimately raising the stakes for Bobby and his particularly budding attraction to Cladwell’s lovely if simple daughter Hope.
Over the years, director Lee Merrill has staged serious material such as Sweeney Todd, The Magic Fire and The Miracle Worker, but she lets loose here in the black box Herbst Theatre with an exhilarating frivolity recalling her outstanding production of The Gondoliers 11 years ago in the Herbst. She gives her exemplary cast permission to go big and broad, but her wonderfully environmental and intimate staging (featuring evocative lighting design by Emily Hope and a multi-level set by Pam Knauert Lavarnway complete with an assortment of empty water bottles) isn’t an over-the-top free-for-all. In fact, the show’s inherent silliness (and there’s plenty of it) is often dialed back to great effect, allowing for moments of earnest sensitivity and vulnerability within the realm of kooky parody. She also deserves credit for allowing certain lines to refreshingly resonate that might have been buried, hurried or thrown away in previous productions. In other words, you will not miss one of Cladwell’s cronies telling someone with all seriousness that he was once a “good girl.”
This vocally strong production, exceptionally and energetically choreographed with inspired touches by Jessica Eggleston, is a true ensemble showcase with numerous standouts. The physically imposing David Emery winningly portrays the kindhearted Bobby Strong as a valiant hero with an endearingly daft persona. In the same spirit, Celia Arthur, as Hope, supplies attractive gentility and dim-witted charm (notice how she greets the citizens in the opening title number). Arthur and Emery notably unite for a beautifully layered rendition of “Follow Your Heart,” one of many terrific tunes in the score, which predominately serves as a savvy homage to Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. Emily Chodan is authoritative and very funny as Penelope Pennywise, Bobby’s strict boss at Amenity No. 9, the “poorest, filthiest urinal in town.” As Cladwell, Tristan Allen exuberantly revels in the role’s despicable glee with giddy flamboyance. The marvelously expressive Alejandra Solis perfectly captures the innocence and insights of the wiser-than-her-years Little Sally. Ian Ashwell and Kyle Sell are respectively compatible and sardonic as Officers Lockstock and Barrel. The cast, properly socio-economically costumed by Jonah Larison and accompanied by music director Sherri Sutter’s solid if small three-piece orchestra, includes Ethan Evans (Senator Fipp), Hunter Minor (a fierce Mr. McQueen), Christian Schaefer (Old Man Strong), Sam Maxwell (a fittingly hot-tempered Hot Blade Harry), Mikalya Shepherd (Old Woman), Casey Borghesi (Josephine Strong), Brynnan McNeill (Little Becky Two Shoes), Rachel Woeste (Mrs. Millennium), Kaitlyn Campbell (Soupy Sue), Lauren Kampman (Cladwell’s Secretary), Veronica Brown (Tiny Tom), Grant Measures (Dr. Belleaux), Nick Martin (Robbie the Stockfish), and Eric Thompson (Billy Boy Bill).
Urinetown concludes today at 2 p.m. in the Herbst Theatre of the Creative Arts Center, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Dayton. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students. For tickets or more information, call the Box Office at (937) 775-2500 or visit www.wright.edu/theatre-dance-and-motion-pictures/performances/ticket-information.
In related news, a special student-produced local premiere of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s acclaimed 2014 Pulitzer Prize-nominated and 2015 Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home will be held today and tomorrow at 8 p.m. in the Director’s Lab of the Creative Arts Center. Based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name, this humorous and thought-provoking coming-of-age tale will be directed by Megan Valle. There is free admission.