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Urinetown
Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollman, Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotis
Directed by Scott Miller and Chris Kernan
Choreographed by Chris Kerman
June 4, 2022

Cast of Urinetown
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

“What is Urinetown?” That’s a question that gets asked often in New Line Theatre’s latest production. In terms of the plot, that’s for the audience to find out, but in terms of the show itself, Urinetown is a 2001 musical that gained a lot of accolades when it first played on Broadway. It’s notable for being one of the first “meta-musicals” in the fullest sense of the term. It’s a clever sendup of many of the conventions of musical theatre, as well as some specific shows. It’s a dark comedy and a sharp satire, and at New Line, it’s a memorable experience with an especially strong cast, insightful direction, and a striking aesthetic.

The story, narrated by Officer Lockstock (Kent Coffel) of the police, and the curious, precocious Little Sally (Jennelle Gilreath), tells of a nameless town in the not-so-distant future in which there has been a drought and a major water shortage, and in which a corporation, Urine Good Company, has taken over managing public toilets, which the townspeople are required to use. The part of town where most of the story takes place is home to only one of these public “amenities”, as they are called. The amenity is managed by the imperious Penelope Pennywise (Sarah Gene Dowling), and assisted by the young, increasingly dissatisfied Bobby Strong (Kevin Corpuz), who becomes convinced that the way things are is unfair, as anyone who is caught breaking the rules–including his own father Joseph (Zachary Allen Farmer) is arrested and carted off to the mysterious “Urinetown” as a punishment. Meanwhile, Urine Good Company’s big boss, Caldwell B. Cladwell (Todd Schaefer) is using his considerable influence to bribe Senator Fipp (Colin Dowd) to influence the government to pass new laws that raise the fees for the amenities, much to the public’s distress. When Cladwell’s fresh-faced college graduate daughter, Hope (Melissa Felps), gets lost on her way to work and meets Bobby, that starts a chain of events that leads to much uproar, rebellion, and the revelation of long-held secrets. Ultimately, the story is a highly cynical one, as Officer Lockstock reminds Little Sally that “this isn’t a happy musical”. It’s stylized, occasionally over-the-top, and cleverly sends up many of the tropes audiences have come to expect in the musical theatre canon. There are also some obvious sendups of well-known shows such as Les Miserables and West Side Story, among others. 

The staging is, as is usual for New Line, full of energy and strong singing, featuring a remarkable cast led by the charismatic Corpuz as the earnest, determined Bobby, and the equally excellent Felps as the well-meaning but initially sheltered Hope. There are also strong turns from Schaefer as the greedy, self-important Cladwell, Dowling as increasingly mysterious Pennywise, Marshall Jennings as Lockstock’s loyal counterpart, Officer Barrel, and Dowd as the corrupted, conflicted Senator Fipp.  Coffel and Gilreath hold the stage with excellent presence and timing as the authoritarian Lockstock and the inquisitive, occasionally snarky Little Sally. It’s a strong ensemble all around, with loads of cynical energy and strong vocals. There’s also excellent stylized choreography by Chris Kernan.

This is a demanding show in terms of style, pacing, and overall theming, and all that is done remarkably well at New Line, under the direction of Scott Miller and Kernan. There’s also a strikingly evocative set by Schaefer, meticulously detailed costumes by Sarah Porter, and excellent lighting by Kenneth Zinkl that helps capture the overall dystopian tone of the piece. The excellent New Line Band, led by music director Tim Clark, provides ideal accompaniment, as well.

This is one of those shows that is probably not going to appeal to everyone. It’s remarkably sharp and clever, but it also can be deeply cynical and bleak, so if you are looking for a truly “happy musical”, this isn’t it. It’s witty, incisive, and hilarious at times, though, and a special treat for musical theatre buffs, in that it’s such a precise parody that features many familiar tropes and references, and has a memorable, highly referential score. At New Line, Urinetown challenges, provokes, and ultimately entertains with a superb cast of of local actors and singers. It may not be a happy musical, but it’s certainly a memorable one. 

Kent Coffel, Kevin Corpuz, Marshall Jennings
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre is presenting Urinetown at the Marcelle Theatre until June 25th, 2022

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