Is ‘Urinetown’ really the title of this excellent play?
There is nothing to dislike about “Urinetown, the Musical,” except its name. It is a “wow!” production, filled with excellent singing, dancing, music, costumes, lighting and sound effects. On opening night, everyone walked out of the Foothill Theatre performance laughing and smiling.
Although the premise of the play is somewhat silly – after a 20-year drought requires limits on water consumption, an evil corporation takes control of all toilet usage, requiring people to pay to pee – it gives wide latitude for the playwright to skewer all manner of social, political and entertainment conventions. From capitalism to environmentalism to activism to love, “Urinetown” satirizes and knowingly comments upon them all.
Incorporated within the song-and-dance numbers, excellently performed by a very talented cast, are laugh-out-loud “samplings” of very recognizable vocalizations, body movements and dance steps from other theater and dance pieces. These include the finger-snapping, body-bent-over steps of the Jets from “West Side Story” or the chair-sitting, arm-fluttering motions from Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations.” The many over-the-top parodies were especially well done by Jenni Stephenson as the young girl with a “rubber face”; Katie Rubin as the keeper of the poorman’s pee premises; Ted Barton as the policeman/narrator; and David Silberman as the evil capitalist, who smoothly intones the very funny song, “Don’t be the bunny.” Alice Grindling’s singing, as the capitalist’s daughter who falls in love and becomes a revolutionary, was especially strong. The excellent ensemble members worked seamlessly with each other, creating wonderful set pieces and tuneful harmonies.
Due to an unforeseen circumstance, Carolyn Howarth took over the directorial reins when the cast began rehearsals and after the show had already been developed. She did an amazing job, as did musical director Ken Hardin, who recorded the wonderful music that accompanied the singers. Contributing to the play’s comic book-like ambiance were the creative costumes designed by Paulette Gilbert.
When I first saw “Urinetown” four years ago in San Francisco, performed by the nationally prestigious American Conservatory Theater, I neither liked nor disliked it. At that time, I obviously didn’t “get” the play or many of its jokes and parodies. But Foothill Theatre’s presentation so enthralled and entertained me, and all the set pieces were so clear to me, that I can now truthfully say that “Urinetown” is one of those must-see theatrical pieces. Its run continues at the Nevada Theater in Nevada City through April 6.
Hindi Greenberg suggests that if you don’t want to have to pay to pee when you go to the theater in the future, you should throw some dollar bills into the plastic collection box at the Nevada Theater to help rehabilitate that historic building and keep its water running for free.
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