Well, it's back. Urinetown, the nasty little show with the awfully picturesque title, has returned in a coruscating production that proves without a doubt that it is still the most stimulating, refreshing new musical in years. Polished to a fare-thee-well by director John Rando's and choreographer John Carrafa's spectacular new staging, Urinetown has taken on a noticeably darker, deeper, but no less brilliant sheen. One might miss the youthful effervescence that lifted the 1999 Fringe Festival production to giddy heights of cartoonish hilarity, but what was a highly entertaining show with enormous potential is now a fully realized adult musical that can and should take its place with the best of the genre.
The most amazing thing about Urinetown is how much it unabashedly begs, borrows, and steals from every major musical but still retains its own unique personality. It has been skillfully orchestrated (by Bruce Coughlin) to have a recognizably "Kurt Weill" sound, yet Mark Hollman's score remains a tunefully original ode to all musical comedy. Influenced not only by Weill but by Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein as well, Hollmann provides a score that is wholly his own - melodic, passionate, and pulsing with life. Likewise Greg Kotis's book, while remaining cheerfully subversive and convulsively funny, now reveals a seething anger that was only hinted at in the previous production (kudos to Rando, a superb director.)
Scott Pask's gritty environmental design, all threatening catwalks and grimy tiles, Jonathan Bixby's and Gregory Gale's '30s style costumes, in shades of brown, cream, navy and wine, and Brian MacDevitt's lighting, alternating shadowy gloom with gold-hued warmth, gave the show the beautifully appropriate look of a Depression-era WPA poster come to vivid life.
Re-cast with actors whose age and experience match those of the characters they are playing, only Spencer Kayden, as the homeless orphan Little Sally, made the transfer from the Fringe production - wise move, as it is hard to imagine anyone else in this role. Her performance was a model of satiric pathos and superb comic timing, both then and now. Two-time Tony winner John Cullum has taken on the role of Caldwell B. Cladwell, the evil head of UGC, and he delivered a performance of delightfully suave malevolence. As Hope Cladwell and Bobby Strong, the inevitable hero and heroine, Jennifer Laura Thompson and Hunter Foster were pitch-perfect. Nancy Opel, in fabulous voice, was terrific fun as Penelope Pennywise, the bullying matron of "Public Amenity #9," Jeff McCarthy gave Officer Lockstock a neat mix of reassuring strength and authoritarian sadism, and Kay Walbye found a touchingly absurd humanity as Bobby's mother.
This production of Urinetown (technically Off-Broadway, but playing in an Off-Off-Broadway house) has been nominated for nine Drama Desk Awards - including nominations for McCarthy and Kayden and of course Best Musical. One can only hope and pray that the Broadway juggernauts it is competing with will duke it out at the Tony Awards, leaving the path clear for the genuine cream of the crop to claim the prizes it deserves.
(Also featuring David Beach, Rachel Coloff,
Rick Crom, John Deyle, Victor W. Hawks, Ken
Jennings, Megan Lawrence, Daniel Marcus, Lawrence
Book: 2 Music: 2 Lyrics: 2
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita