Urinetown! (the musical), despite its title, proves that a good musical can be made from any subject matter, and in the process it earns that most overused adjective in theatre criticism: brilliant.
The new musical by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann examines the terrible consequences when a Gotham-like city is so stricken with drought that private bathrooms are abolished and the privilege to pee is controlled by a single, malevolent corporation. "This is not a happy little musical," one of the characters exclaims in the opening number, setting the stage for the gleefully anarchic show to follow. Influenced by nearly every style of musical theatre, from the period schmaltz of Rodgers and Hammerstein and the subversive spirit of Brecht & Weill to the coldly analytical Stephen Sondheim, Kotis and Hollmann, along with their gifted director, Joseph P. McDonnell, have created a convulsively entertaining satire that, while cheerfully deconstructing the very form it so slavishly imitates, simultaneously mocks and becomes a model musical, vintage 1999. Refreshingly modest and candid about itself and its aim, Urinetown! hits the bullseye precisely because it so clear about what it is, what it is going to do, and how it is going to do it.
Hollmann's score is an intelligent, melodic amalgam of every type of musical theatre song, from high-flown love ballads to gospel/revival showstoppers, and of course, the latin-style number (de rigueur for any self-respecting musical of the 1950s), neatly dovetailed into Kotis's hilariously smart-ass book. McDonnell directed with an impeccable sense of style, flair, and timing, and the whole production was mounted with surprisingly good taste. Jane Charlotte Jones's set, Karen Flood's costumes, and the uncredited lighting created a zany, cartoonlike world that reassured and unsettled at the same time, and everything zipped along with the seamless energy that belongs to only the very best productions.
The performances were of consistently high caliber throughout, and everyone in this production could sing, sing, sing! Terry Cosentino as a greedy senator, Adam Grant as the evil corporate giant, and Jay Rhoderick as a bullying police officer all oozed oily, sadistic charm, while Louise Rozett and Wilson Hall, as a pair of star-crossed lovers, were picture-perfect and hysterically gooey. Rob Maitner defined toadying corporate yes-men with definitive, neurotic finesse, and Carol Hickey belted, boomed, and barreled her way through the role of the public "amenity" matron from hell with the assurance and sarcastic ability of a young Eileen Brennan. But it was the incredible Spencer Kayden as a homeless orphan on roller-skates who almost stole the show with her remarkable, knowing performance that served as conscience, Greek chorus, and deux et machina all rolled into one. The strong ensemble boasted razor-sharp characterizations from Kristen Anderson, Nick Balaban, Victor Khodadad, Zachary Lasher, Bellavia Mauro, Allison Schubert, and especially the adorably wacky Raquel Hecker, who deserves a musical of her own.
Not afraid to expose the dark undercurrents roiling beneath its candy-coated exterior, Kotis, Hollmann, and McDonnell's cynical little masterpiece is probably the darkest, most misanthropic musical yet conceived. But it is so self-confidently entertaining that, with a little luck and a whole lotta cash, it could be the kind of hit that sets New York ablaze. Bless its malevolent little heart.
Book: 2 Music: 2 Lyrics: 2
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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita