Annie, Cabaret, Dreamgirls, Grease, Hair, Mame, Pippin, Rent. One-word-titled Broadway smashes go all the way back to the birth of the modern American musical. (Showboat or Oklahoma!, you take your pick.) Still, there’s never quite been a modern American musical like Urinetown, proof positive of which can be marveled at in director Kari Hayter’s exhilarating intimate-stage revival, the latest from L.A.’s “Pay What You Want” Coeurage Theatre Company.
Take for instance its opening number, a duet between tough-guy Officer Lockstock (Ted Barton) and precocious Little Sally (Nicole Monet) that has the policeman informing his street urchin protégée that “Nothing can kill a show like too much exposition,” to which Little Sally responds with a cheeky, “How about bad subject matter? Or a bad title even? That could kill a show pretty good.”
Welcome to the self-referential world of Urinetown, winner of three 2002 Tonys including Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis’s matched set for Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical, a show whose unique premise, irreverent attitude, clever dialog, catchy score, and quirky cast of characters make it one of a kind among 21st-century Broadway smashes.
Urinetown’s central premise is this. Humanity has arrived at a point in the not so distant future when decades of drought have caused such a shortage of water that “It’s A Privilege To Pee,” i.e. private toilets have become illegal and people must pay to use the amenities or risk the ire of Officers Lockstock and Barrel (Robert Collins) or a tongue-lashing from Penelope Pennywise (Janna Caria), warden of the town’s filthiest urinal.
Enter spunky young Bobby Strong (Daniel Bellusci), who upon learning that his father has peed illegally and been sent to Urinetown (=the worst fate imaginable), leads a rebellion against Urine Good Company, the megafirm which owns and operates the public toilets.
Then, in true Romeo and Juliet tradition, Bobby falls for Hope Cladwell (Ashley Kane), graduate of The Most Expensive University In The World and the lovely daughter of UGC CEO Caldwell B. Cladwell (Gary Lamb), and before long our handsome hero has found himself caught between his romantic heart and his revolutionary ideals.
Of the half-dozen Urinetowns I’ve now seen, none has topped director Hayter’s inspired vision, one brought to life by a sensational young cast and a crackerjack production design whose German-Expressionism-meets-American-Grunge look helps bring out the Brecht-meets-Weil in Holman and Kotis’s score.
Brandon Baruch’s noiresque lighting casts dramatic shadows against scenic designer Matt Scarpino’s stark gray graffiti-tagged set, whose sharp angles recall The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari and early Hitchcock.
Emily Brown-Kucera’s costumes, by contrast, are decidedly modern and deliciously grimy, even when down-and-out locals don blazers as Cladwell employees. (Only Cladwell, his pair of lackeys, and daughter Hope remain stylishly spic-and-span throughout.)
As for Brown-Kucera’s props, not only do they include Miss Pennywise’s requisite plunger and the biggest role of toilet paper I’ve ever, rarely if ever have shopping carts served so many purposes on a musical stage.
Meanwhile, Christopher M. Allbrect’s endlessly imaginative choreography channels among others Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, and Jerome Robbins in clever insider tributes to A Chorus Line, West Side Story, Chicago, Fiddler, and more.
Dynamic CSUN junior (and two-time Scenie winner) Bellusci once again dazzles as dashing revolutionary Bobby opposite a scrumptiously screwball Kane’s baby-voiced Hope.
Barton deadpans Officer Lockstock to perfection, he and Monet’s sassy sidekick earning the evening’s biggest laughs, at least among audience show queens, and Collins’ ever faithful Officer Barrell earns his own share of chuckles as well.
Lamb’s exquisitely evil, supremely slimy Caldwell B. Cladwell is a treat too, with Shakil Azizi’s suave Senator Fipp and Jamie Pierce’s oh-so aptly named Mr. McQueen providing delightfully dastardly sidekick support, and the always sensational Cardia not only gives tough cookie Penelope Pennywise New York-style moxie, she hits the stratosphere with the highest belt in town.
As for the townsfolk, Coeurage’s Urinetown allows its indefatigable triple-threat featured ensemble to shine as brightly as its stars, each one creating a finely delineated character gem, from Ethan Barker’s Robby The Stockfish to Jason Beaubien’s Tiny Tom to Danny Bernardo’s Old Man Strong and Hot Blades Harry to Katie Canavan’s Soupy Sue and Mrs. Millennium to Christopher Davis Carlisle’s Billy Boy Bill to Nicole Garcia’s Little Becky Two Shoes to Janet Song’s Josephine Strong.
Musical director Gregory Nabours elicits sensational cast vocals while accompanist (and recent CSUN grad) Peter Shannon reveals non-stop keyboard prowess, sound designer James Ferrero ensuring an expert mix.
Like CSUN’s Parade, the Chance’s Hairspray, and CSUF’s Rent before it, Coeurage Theatre Company’s Urinetown proves another Kari Hayter stunner, an out-of-the-ordinary intimate-scale musical treat that should top any musical theater lover’s list of must-see shows this fall.
(Logan Allison, Taylor Bracken, Josh Cooper, Cristina Gerla, William Aric Goldstein, Grant C. Hansen, Jenn Kuhlman-Leon, Melissa Marye Lehman, Rob Murray, Brian O’Sullivan, Helen Planchet, Robert Ramirez, Brooke Van Grinsven, and Paul Wong join Barker’s Robby and Collins’ Officer Lockstock at Thursday November 17th’s alternate cast performance.)
The Historic Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood.
November 5, 2016
Photos: Nardeep Khurmi