Theatre Raleigh, which prides itself on “bringing intimate professional theatre” to the city, with musicals, dramas, and comedies, opened Urinetown: The Musical this past Wednesday at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater. Although Urinetown has a rather large cast, and is the largest show Theatre Raleigh has produced in the ten years, the action still remained intimate in the medium-sized theater, with the cast breaking the proverbial fourth wall often to interact with the audience, sometimes walking in the aisles, sometimes handing out flyers, and sometimes even asking questions.
Director Richard Roland led the moderately-sized cast in a clever, tongue-in-cheek rendition of this satirical musical, set in a Gotham-like city enhanced by haze effects in the theater that made the lighting smoky and foreboding. The city is facing a drought and is controlled by a company that charges people for the use of public bathrooms, ostensibly using the fees to research long-term solutions to the water shortage. David Hess plays Officer Lockstock (of Officers Lockstock and Barrel) and serves as narrator of the musical, along with Rachael Moser as Little Sally. They had a great rapport and kicked off the hilarity of the show, explaining certain details to the point of elaborating that, “Nothing can kill a show like an overload of exposition,” or a bad title, explaining that, “This is not a happy musical,” and blurting out the biggest secret about Urinetown – while explaining that it is the biggest secret about Urinetown and they can’t just blurt it out.
The show is reminiscent of a Mel Brooks film in all the right ways, and Roland as well as choreographer and Theatre Raleigh Artistic Director Lauren Kennedy missed no opportunity for a joke at the expense of modern musicals. However, the talent of the actors was never lost in the humor. Courtney Balan, who plays Penelope Pennywise, lit up the stage whenever she entered, and centered all attention on this quirky, ambiguous character, even if she was just sneaking around behind a scene. Her vocal range and intensity was apparent from her very first number, “It’s a Privilege to Pee.”
Likewise, Brennan Caldwell and Cameron Caudill, who play the ever-hopeful and innocent Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell, have lovely voices that blend very well, portraying characters that are too naïve for their own good. Stylized villains Caldwell B. Cladwell (Raymond Sage), Senator Fipp (Jade Arnold), and Mr. McQueen (Rick Meadows) have great voices, but also wonderful stage presence and interaction as they affirm, doubt, and reaffirm their evil schemes. As the revolution of the lower-class comes to a head at the end of Act I, several finishing touches, like a Les-Miserables-esque fort made of tables and chairs, a flag, a scene set completely in slow motion, and warnings from Officer Lockstock to the audience set the tone for a scathing Act II finale.
Except for a few first-night line fumbles and awkward pauses in blocking, opening night was a success for everyone involved. The musicians performed as well as the actors, or better, with Jack Murray on woodwinds, including clarinet, bass clarinet, and saxophone, all of which included conventional solos in jazz, showtune, ragtime, gospel, and even Klezmer styles. Under the direction of conductor and keyboardist Julie Bradley, the band was unstoppable in all the right ways.
Original writers Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis provide a wonderfully scathing message about sustainability and the power of monopolizing corporation, but Roland and Kennedy put the finishing touches on a show that, in Kennedy’s words, “Is so funny it’ll make you have to pee.” Without spoiling the ending, this show is clever, sharing an important message while poking fun not only at society but theatre itself, and although it doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, it will keep you laughing all the way home.
Urinetown: The Musical continues through Sunday, August 18. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.