A Review

Do You Hear The People Pee?

By R. J. Donovan

Lyric Stage Company is kicking off its 2005-2006 season with a bright and funny production of "Urinetown: The Musical."  Book and lyrics are by Greg Kotis, music and lyrics by Mark Hollman, and choreography is by Ilyse Robbins. The production is directed by Spiro Veloudos, Lyric’s Producing Artistic Director.

Having been described as "a love letter to the American musical in the form of a hand grenade," "Urinetown" celebrates and skewers itself at the same time.

The story is set in a mythical Gotham-like town suffering from an appalling lack of water.  There's been a 20 year drought, the reservoir has dried up and private toilets are outlawed. A corrupt corporation, Urine Good Company, exploits the situation by charging residents a fee to use controlled, public facilities.

As the people are incredibly poor (and due to their circumstances, pretty filthy), this creates long lines of scruffy looking ragamuffins outside the pay toilets, otherwise known as “Amenities.”

God help you if you relieve yourself for free anywhere else. You'll be dragged off by the police to a fate worse than . . . well that’s part of the not-so-secret ending.

Part of the fun with “Urinetown” is that it constantly comments on itself while offering tongue-in-cheek homage to such shows as “Fiddler,” “West Side Side Story” and “Les Miz,” among others. The characters go so far as to question how much exposition the audience can endure in the opening number and whether an awful title can, by itself, kill a show.

Narrator for all of this is Officer Lockstock, our white-gloved guide through the musical mayhem.  Christopher Chew (far left) assumes his role with the steely, wide-eyed grin of an authoritative official who stands by the law whether it makes sense or not.

His co-narrator, of sorts, is the bedraggled waif and voice of the public conscience, Little Sally, delightfully played and sung by Veronica J. Kuehn (above with Chew). Heading the Urine Good Company scam is Sean McGuirk as the duplicitous Caldwell B. Cladwell, whose daughter Hope, played with innocence by Jennifer Ellis, is snatched by the angry townspeople in hopes of bettering their grubby future.

Longtime Lyric regular Maryann Zschau is Penelope Pennywise, keeper of the keys and matron of the mop at the local Amenity. And Peter A. Carey again shows how much he can do with a role, playing the doomed Old Man Strong, only to return in Act Two as finger-snapping hipster, Hot Blades Harry.

The hero of the day is Bobby Strong, out to avenge his father’s death, fight an Amenity rate increase and secure a flowing future for his friends and family. As Strong, Rob Morrison is the new face in the cast and a welcome addition to the local theater community. The recent Emerson grad sings great, sketches a convincing character and maintains a solid stage presence even when matched with those who’ve been at it a lot longer.

While the comedy is sharp, this is a musical, after all. The cast sets the spoofy scene in the opening title number, Zschau delivers a strong “It’s A Privilege To Pee,” Chew is great leading the the wacky rap parody “The Cop Song,” Ellis captures reaches to the soul for “Follow Your Heart” and Morrison digs in for “Look At The Sky” before leading the rousing, gospel-toned “Run, Freedom, Run.”

The full company is great throughout, particularly in the ensemble number “Snuff That Girl” as well as the previously mentioned “Run, Freedom, Run.” (And unless I'm mistaken, the crystal voice that soars above all the others in the choral numbers belongs to Michele A. DeLuca.)

Veloudos uses every bit of Lyric’s tidy stage space, even sending his actors out into the house for entrances and exits. In that vein, several “cops” patrol the aisles pre-show. At the press opening, Officer Barrel (Robert Saoud) accused Boston Herald reviewer Terry Byrne of being a spy when he saw the pen and notebook on her lap. Also using the space to great advantage is Janie E. Howland’s inventive set of sewage pipes and catwalks. Kudos as well to Jonathan Goldberg and the band, sitting high above the playing area.

“Urinetown” has no tap-dancing chorines, no crashing chandeliers, no stylized jungle masks and no puppets cracking wise. However, it’s equal to the shows that do offer those things because, on its own terms, it’s one of the funniest and most original musicals to come along in a while. And it’s getting a good showcase at Lyric.

"Urinetown: The Musical" is at Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, through October 15. For information, call 617-437-7172.

-- OnStage Boston



To receive an email Update when new pages are posted at OnStage Boston, click here.


© 2002-2004 RJD Associates. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this site may be reprinted or reproduced without prior written permission.