Urinetown… Don’t Let The Title Fool You! By Patrick McElhinney

For those of us of a certain generation (mine), something with the name Urinetown is a bit off-putting.

10599576_10152699105621189_4820139268987207395_nIn learning that the plot of Urinetown: The Musical  centers around the improbable concept that the residents of a “Gotham-like city” are restricted to using public pay toilets controlled by a corporation headed by a megalomaniac, the off-putting is reinforced.  But in finding out the musical had garnered 10 Tony Award nominations and won three in 2002, you figure the production deserves a look.

Well, don’t let the name or the plot or any generational qualms keep you away from the City Theatre Company presentation currently on tap at its home on Airport Boulevard.  It’s simply a wonderful production with a superior cast that makes for two hours of good, clean (yes, really — there’s nothing at all off-color in the dialogue — well, maybe a few visuals that a real prude might take exception to) fun!

Casting Gil Austin, in the role of “Officer Lockstock,” was genius on the part of director Marco Bazan.  Austin brings to the role of the somewhat crazed police officer who carries miscreants who do not follow the rules off to the oblivion of Urinetown the comic timing, physical expression, and vocal color that sets the tone for the entire production.  “Lockstock,” with the assistance of  “Little Sally” (played with a charming elfin quality by Vanessa Marie), opens the production as Narrator and explains to the audience not only about the 20-year drought that resulted in a ban against the use of private toilets (Is this what we are facing in Central Texas?) but tells us how the musical itself will unfold.  Austin’s character is subtly obvious (an oxymoron, I know), and Austin plays it with such gusto and verve that you are eager for his every appearance.

Daniel Monplaisir and Evelyn LaLonde play “Bobby Strong” and “Hope Cladwell,” respectively, the nominal hero and heroine of this story that doesn’t have the usual happy ending of hero and heroine singing the final duet as the curtain falls.  Both provide excellent voice to their musical numbers, and they prove singers can act.  Or are they actors who can sing?  Either way, they get the job done.

The same is true of Kirk Kelso as “Caldwell Cladwell,” CEO of the megacorporation, “Urine in Good Company” (be prepared: the book is 10454917_10152699105611189_4360309907297684635_nreplete with that kind of humor), and Cathie Sheridan as “Penny Pennywise.”  Kelso brings a wonderful, restrained over-the-top (another oxymoron, I know) approach to his melodrama-style evil captain of industry who is willing to abandon his daughter for “Cash!” and power.  Sheridan, with a powerful voice that could probably fill the Long Center, plays the manager of Public Amenity #9 who has a secret — that becomes blatantly obvious as the story unfolds.  She, by the way, who has most of the visuals mentioned above, a tribute to her effective characterization of the rejected woman.

Special mention must be given to the Ensemble, too many to name here.  But their enthusiasm, energy, and collective talents as vocalists and dancers contribute greatly to the success of this production.  It was remarkable how the cast of 18 was able to maneuver with such effectiveness in the relatively confined space of the City Theatre stage, a tribute to Director Bazan, and their choreographer, City Theatre’s artistic director, Andy Berkovsky.

The musical is a spoof about idealism, corporate greed, and humanity.  It also spoofs the genre of musical comedy itself, with homage to, at least Les Miserables and West Side Story.  Despite its obvious imitations, it is, at the end, a very original concept.  All in all, it is a delightful entertainment, and this City Theatre Company production serves it very, very well.

Urinetown:The Musical continues at The City Theatre, 3823 Airport Boulevard, in Austin, Thursday through Sunday, until September 7.

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