“Urinetown: The Musical” is a terrible name for a Broadway musical. That’s not just my opinion, the show itself spends ample dialogue dedicated to how bad the title is.
Does anyone really want to see a musical about urine? Well, that’s the joke. Nobody would want to sit through a few hours of songs about urine, but “Urinetown” isn’t a staged documentary about pee. It is a send-up of the Broadway musical – satirizing in hilarious fashion some of the trademarks of the modern musical.
Because it relies on audience familiarity with Broadway musicals, “Urinetown” may not be the ideal show for people attending their first musical theater experience. However, if you’ve had a modicum of prior exposure, the script and score likely will hit your funny bone in just the right way.
“Urinetown” is set in a society in which water shortages have resulted in restrictions on public bathrooms. You must pay to pee. The evil private company profiting from the pee fees, Urine Good Company, makes huge profits, while the citizens must go to great lengths to temper their aching bladders. Sounds like the makings of rebellion, doesn’t it?
The show premiered off Broadway in 2001, moving to Broadway later that year, and running through January 2004. It won three Tony Awards, including Best Book, Best Original Score, and Best Direction of a Musical.
The show features music by Mark Hollman, lyrics by Hollman and Greg Kotis, and book by Kotis. The music is catchy, and the script is one laugh after another.
Theatre 121 presents the show through June 26 at the historic Woodstock Opera House, with direction and choreography by Angie Kells, and music direction by Sarah Inendino.
The production also celebrates a homecoming for Joel Bennett, a vital member of the McHenry County theater community for decades. The talented performer has delighted audiences in many roles, and is also one of the nicest people in the industry.
“Urinetown” marks Bennett’s return to the stage, and it’s good to see him back doing what he loves. The opening night audience embraced him with an overwhelming show of love – and deservingly so.
Bennett plays the key role of Officer Lockstock, the narrator of the musical. To do “Urinetown” justice requires characterizations that are a bit over-the-top. This is a tricky formula – not enough exaggeration and the characters fall flat, too much hamming it up could ruin performances in a different way.
Bennett is a master of comedy and hits just the right level of wackiness and embellishment. He infuses in Officer Lockstock a comedic flair reminiscent of Jim Carrey during his early years on the sketch comedy “In Living Color.” That is a big compliment.
Matching Bennett’s perfectly over-the-top characterization is Brit Hendrickson as Little Sally. Like Prairie Dawn on “Sesame Street,” she’s a young girl with a lot of questions and a desire to see the story end in a positive light. Hendrickson is absolutely hysterical. Her comic timing is brilliant. Her vocal inflections are perfect.
The hero of the play is a young man named Bobby. He starts off as a Urine Good Company employee, in charge of collecting astronomical pee tolls from people wanting to use one of UGC’s “public amenities.” As the show goes on though, he becomes a Robin Hood of sorts – letting people pee for free. In the Theatre 121 production, the role is played by Austin Krause.
As Bobby’s love interest, Hope Cladwell, Grace Corwine is tasked with playing the show’s lone fish-out-of-water character. Like Marilyn Munster in the old television sitcom “The Munsters,” Hope is the one and only “normal” person in the show. While all the other characters spout ridiculous dialogue while dressed in campy outfits, Corwine’s Hope is an embrace of all things vanilla.
A character like Hope can be a tough task, but Corwine pulls it off with gusto. She has a glorious voice and is the ideal ingenue for this piece.
As the face of UGC, Hope’s father, Caldwell B. Cladwell, is meant to be the epitome of evil. Scott Laudick pours in all he can to make the villain as sinister as possible.
Also on the side of evil is David Gasior as Senator Fipp. Gasior is in fine form as the corrupt politician, and is at his best when improvising with the audience at the end of the show’s midpoint intermission. Gasior does not need a script to be funny.
Two other performers of note are Jenny Bakakos Herrmann as Penelope Pennywise, and Aaron Gomez as Officer Barrel, the only police backup for Officer Lockstock in the face of rebellion. Herrmann’s Miss Pennywise is another over-the-top UGC employee.
It is the ensemble that really stands out. In terms of vocal quality, the best musical numbers in the show are those that utilize the talented ensemble, their voices blending beautifully. They include Jay Krug, Geoff Lindow, Gary Mackowiak, Karen Peterson, Joseph Sacramento, Jake Seelye, Jade Strong and Kelsey Waughon. Among them, Mackowiak shows wonderful reactions to being the brunt of endless jokes.
Fight choreography by Orion Couling is really impressive. Much of the fighting is done in slow motion and is very effective – equally realistic and hilarious. Costume design by Joann May is spot-on terrific. She is assisted by Rachel Nedza.
Set design is by Jason Clark, lighting design is by Dan Frank, and sound design is by M. Christopher Stevens, who is assisted with microphones by Valerie Gyorke. Tracey Lanman serves as assistant director, Marissa Snook and Michelle Martin share production coordinator duties, and Colin May is the stage manager, with guidance from Spencer White. The technical coordinator is Anthony Walker.
The fantastic on-stage orchestra, under the direction of conductor Anna Nicole Zaino, consists of Erik Ayres (bass), Erik Scheele (keyboard), Emerich Parpart (percussion), Carolyn Awe (reeds), Karen Stein (reeds) and Richard Nielsen (trombone).
Just like the marketing materials for “Urinetown” say, it’s better than the title. And every single actor on stage is having a great time doing what they love to do.
• Rikki Lee Travolta is the producer of “The Polish Cooking Show” on PBS, host of radio’s “It’s Showtime With Rikki Lee” on 101.5 FM WHRU, author of three books, and advisory committee chair for It’s Showtime Theatre of Huntley. As an actor, he headlined Chicago’s “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” and later was recognized for musical theater performances around the country. He next can be seen in the film “The Sleight.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Theatre 121 presents “Urinetown: The Musical”
WHERE: Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren St., Woodstock
WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 26
INFORMATION: Box office at 815-338-5300, www.WoodstockOperaHouse.com