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May 14, 2008 > Theater Review: Incomparable comedy from Urinetown

Theater Review: Incomparable comedy from Urinetown

By Julie Grabowski
Photos By Sue Ellen Nelsen

While the title may not incite the most enthusiastic of initial reactions, "Urinetown: The Musical" is an unforgettable madcap world of everything and nothing you've seen before. The offbeat story was born during Greg Kotis's economy tour of Western Europe in 1995 where his pockets and bladder were continually challenged by pay-per-use toilets. He envisioned a city plagued by 20 years of draught in which the Urine Good Company (UGC) controls water consumption, banning private toilets and installing public amenities available for a fee. Laws against bush use or any other deviating free methods are strictly enforced, with offenders immediately exiled to Urinetown, a mysterious place from which no one returns.

The show is a satirical romp through greed, corruption, romance, revolt, and the division of poor and rich. It delightedly plays with clichˇ and the musical form in general, poking fun at everything it can get its fingers on, from past musicals like "Les Miserables," "Fiddler on the Roof," and "West Side Story" to movie bits, and its own absurdities.
From its beginnings at the New York International Fringe Festival to the white heights of Broadway, "Urinetown" has garnered unstoppable praise and laughter, winning numerous awards including 3 Tony Awards in 2002.

Directed by Sue Ellen Nelsen, the Douglas Morrisson Theatre production does a truly wonderful job of bringing the over the top "Urinetown" to our town. Kim A. Tolman's hard, industrial set with looming bridge and neon green lit sewer grates introduces the daily life of poor citizens awaiting relief of their morning needs at Public Amenity #9. Tough, unbending Penelope Pennywise runs the amenity, assisted by young hero Bobby Strong. But their regulated world quickly starts to crumble when Old Man Strong is sent to Urintown; Bobby falls for the beautiful, innocent Hope, daughter of evil UGC titan Caldwell B. Cladwell; and the poor erupt over increased amenity fees.

The cast is solid and confident without a weak link in the bunch. Jonathan Ferro is supremely entertaining as Officer Lockstock, equal parts corrupt law enforcement and narrator of story happenings and proper musical protocol. Kara Penrose's precocious Little Sally is at perfect pitch, while Erin Reis delivers a delightfully unblemished Hope Cladwell. James Leonard Koponen is an easy and engaging Bobby Strong with a great presence. On the smaller side of the roles, Matthew Horry's 'Fraidy Cat Frank summons instant laughter with each appearance.

The music is no less zany than the rest of the show; "Don't Be the Bunny" and "Snuff That Girl" are hilarious numbers, and the revivalist spirit of "Run Freedom Run" is arguable the best of the show. However the songs are at their best when performed as a group activity, individual voices tending to lack force and staying power, at times drifting under the music.

Overall, the production is nothing short of pure, vigorous entertainment. If you're ready to take a large step away from traditional musical theatre, "Urinetown" is an unpredictable and ridiculous adventure not to be missed. And unlike the poor public amenities users, it will be a seat happily paid for.

Tickets are $25 for adults, $22 for seniors 60 and over, students with ID and juniors under 18 pay $15, and TBA members $10. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or by calling (510) 881-6777. For more information visit

Urinetown: The Musical
May 9-June 8
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Special performances Thursday May 29 and June 5 at 8 p.m.
Douglas Morrisson Theatre
22311 North Third Street, Hayward
(510) 881-6777
Tickets: $10-$25

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