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THEATER REVIEW

Urinetown: The Musical

Yes, That Really Is the Title

By Fred Choi

staff writer

Directed by John Rando

Written by Greg Kotis

Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollmann

Henry Miller Theatre 124 W 43rd St, New York, NY 10036 (Between Broadway and 6th Ave)

Tickets on sale through 4/28/02, $85-$35. Visit <urinetown.com> or <telecharge.com>

$25 rush tickets sold at box office.

Urinetown: The Musical is an entertaining show which is competent, but relies too heavily on familiar gags. There are many reasons why the show drags, but the main reason is that even at its best Urinetown is little more than a very well-produced and directed college parody sketch stretched thin to fill two hours. The show’s premises, laid out in the first twenty minutes, quickly become stale, and ultimately it is the standout performances from the cast that saves Urinetown and makes it a worthwhile, if not a knockout evening.

The plot of Urinetown is fairly straightforward. The scene is a city in a parallel universe in the mid 1900’s in which the majority of the citizens’ dreary low-class existence is compounded by a water shortage, which has lead to the institution of pay-per-use public bathrooms and the jailing of unsanitary offenders. Urine Good Company is the Evil Corporation that runs these bathrooms, and the CEO, Caldwell B. Cladwell’s daughter, Hope, falls in love with Bobby Strong, the leader of the long overdue revolution. Chaos ensues.

The plot is serviceable, but the show could definitely have used tightening. The show includes self-referential humour, in which the characters Lockstock, a corrupt policemen, and Little Sally, a girl in the city, make comments about the absurd title of the show or the predictability of the “hero” and the “heroine” falling in love. This extra padding, along with “naughty potty humour,” fail to get much out of its intended mileage. Likewise, the social commentary about a society “with an unsustainable way of life” feels groundlessly smug, and the satirical references to the musical theater genre and other specific shows, while oftentimes entertaining, are only condiments to an otherwise fairly bland show. In addition, Kotis and Holland make it difficult to feel any sympathy towards their one-dimensional characters, including the ludicrously ditzy heroine or the almost equally clueless hero.

By far the strongest selling point of Urinetown is its fantastic ensemble. Jeff McCarthy is wonderfully over the top as officer Lockstock, and Hunter Foster as Bobby Strong and Jennifer Laura Thompson as Hope Cladwell give wholehearted performances to their roles, with Thompsom particularly strong in her hilarious gospel performance of “I See a River.” John Callum revels in the evilness of Caldwell B. Cladwell, as does Nancy Opel in a Tony-worthy performance as Penelope Pennywise, the manager of one of the bathrooms. Opel is a vocal and acting powerhouse and provides the perfect amount of feigned seriousness in such beautifully screamed lines as “Get that head out of the clouds, Bobby Strong! You get it out of the clouds!” Her performance in “It’s a Privilege to Pee” is unquestionably a showstopper and one of the highlights of the evening.

The recording of Urinetown reveals that the jazzy score off-stage is as enjoyable as in the theater. The show aptly draws on varied sources including as soul, classic movie musicals, and Jewish folk music in “What is Urinetown?”, although occasionally it stoops to cheap shots, such as Lockstock’s lounge-y, saxophone accompanied solo line at the end of “What is Urinetown?” Their lyrics tend to be unremarkable (such as “Bobby, think!/You’re standing on the brink!/You’ll be arrested son/Perhaps as soon as noon,” from the Act One Finale), but for the subject matter not much more is required. A few of Hollman and Kotis’s songs rise to a higher level beyond mere competency, as in the clever “Don’t Be the Bunny,” which includes various scenarios depicting the demise of innocent rabbits, with the memorable images “Goodbye, Bunny-Boo/Hello, Rabbit Stew!” and “With a mallet and some clippers/You find out: new bunny slippers!”

Urinetown is an enjoyable musical, although not “must-see” theater. It is quite disappointing that Bat Boy, which also opened this past season, closed only recently Off-Broadway. Both shows feature similarly tongue-in-cheek humour, but Bat Boy, based on a recurring supermarket tabloid character, had a far more humorous, clever, and curiously moving plot and score. If you’re in New York, Urinetown might be worth checking out, but here’s hoping that a national tour of Bat Boy will turn up soon.