Urinetown, the Musical playing at Seattle’s Act Theatre through June 2, 2019. Get tickets and info here.
“What is Urinetown? Is Urinetown the end?” So go the lyrics for one of the oddest named musicals ever to flush across the Broadway stage. Written as a piece to satirize not only society but also the mandatory pay toilets of European cities, the musical Urinetown is the perfect escape show, full of good music and talent with lots of humor and satire.
The storyline takes place in the not too distant future. The water tables have gone very low and have silted up becoming brackish. Mr. Caldwell is the President of a company (The Urine Good Company) that owns the public amenities, and thus charges the poor people to pee three times daily. Those that disobey (by going in the bushes, or refusing to pay) are rounded up and sent off to ‘Urinetown’. Bobby Strong works at one such establishment and on a chance meeting, comes across the young and optimistically innocent Hope Caldwell, the bosses daughter. Love sparks between them and Hope teaches Bobby to ‘listen to his heart’. His heart yearns for a place where people are free to pee as ‘often as they wish, whenever they wish, and with whomever they wish’. Bobby is inspired and starts an open rebellion against Hope’s father leading the rag-tag group of people to listen, and to following their hearts.
The relatively small ensemble cast is excellent. Each person doubles up to play not only a member of Caldwell’s team of greed, but also a member of the oppressed rebellion gang, giving each character a very distinct (if not subtle) unique personality.
Kurt Beattie, who bears a striking resemblance both physically and vocally to Ian McShane, plays the antagonist Mr. Caldwell. His villainous character is living animation appearing menacing enough to show his role in the story. His stage presence is strong without being intimidating and his voice is clear with a subtle tinge for evil implications. Mari Nelson plays Penelope Pennywise, the woman that runs the public amenity where the rebellion starts. She is a delight to watch with a ‘Phyllis Diller’ type of persona. Her voice is strong especially when belting out the anthem, “It’s a Privilege to Pee” with gusto and clarity.
Familiar Seattle stage persona Brandon O’Neill plays Officer Lockstock, the unofficial narrator of the show. His rich voice lures us like a Venus Fly Trap; the sound is soothing but the lyrics are sharp. Mr. O’Neill’s stage presence is perfect for the likeable, subtly seething force of Officer Lockstock. Arika Matoba plays the character Little Sally. Ok. Hands down, this woman steels the show with every scene she is in. Ms. Matoba looks like a tiny innocent creature but her stage presence is strong and delivers a wallop. The character appears sweet dripping with the innocent sarcasm of a jaded kewpie doll, and yet hers is the character delivering some of the best lines of the show. Brava, Ms. Matoba, Brava!
Sarah Rose Davis plays Hope Caldwell, the young daughter of the Urinary mogul. Ms. Davis is delightfully wonderful adding a comic-book naivety to a powerful singing voice and an animated stage presence. Her voice is sweet to listen as she sings the optimistic “Follow Your Heart”. Whether she is interacting with her powerful father, or with the beginnings of romance with Bobby Strong, Ms. Davis delivers a charming performance. Mikko Juan takes on the role of the rebellious Bobby Strong. He first appears shy until meeting Hope. The audience soars along as his gusto enthusiastically bursts forth showering the theatre in utter optimism. Mr. Juan has a strong voice when he’s leading the song “Look at the Sky”, or the gospel-like “Run, Freedom, Run”. This is Mr. Juan’s ACT debut, and we hope to see him in many future roles here and about on the Seattle stage.
The musical Urinetown is like a comic book coming to life on the stage. It is not only fun, but has perky music that will keep the audience tapping their toes, and a story that will have them laughing along. While the political allegory is hard to miss, it isn’t an oppressive feeling at all, and the audience easily shrugs off the pressures on their shoulders, sit back and enjoy this wonderful musical escape.
Urinetown opened on Broadway August 27, 2001 and ran for over 950 performances. Originally starring Hunter Foster (as Bobby Strong), John Cullum (Mr. Caldwell) and Nancy Opel (as Ms. Pennywise), the show was nominated for nine Tony Awards. The show won three Tony Awards including Best Original Musical and Best Original Score.