Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollmann.
Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotis.
Directed by Stephen Schellhardt.
Choreography by Aubrey Adams.
Musical direction by Charlette Rivard-Hoster.
Produced by BoHo Theatre.
At Stage 773, Chicago.
Fun, richly satirical musical is a winner!
The creatives at BoHo Theatre, led by director Stephen Schellhardt, had a daunting task of making the chamber musical work in an intimate venue at Stage 773. The quite small space led to some sound issues that necessitates that the singers sing louder to avoid being overwhelmed by on-stage orchestra. I’d advise the singers to belt louder so as not to louse any of the lyrics.
Urinetown is a fresh hilarious spoof of Brechtian ‘epic’ theater, of political theatre and a Weillian stretch of operatic from. The result is a fresh, original colorful surprising musical. Urinetown proves once again that almost any topic is grist for the mill of talented musical composers and lyricists. This exuberant show will leave you basking in the glory of the stage’s power to entertain. BoHo’s energetic production delvers.
A product of the Fringe Festival in NYC, Urinetown is simply the story of two young adults who fall in love in a city in the middle of a water shortage. It spoofs political corruption, corporate greed, and the social consequences of a mismanaged environment. Classic left-wing issues such as exploitation and abuse of the poor and organized resistance versus terrorism are explored in an irreverent, campy style that is pure Brecht as the characters stay aloof and at times, step out of character and speak to the audience.
We hear an original score full of references to The Threepenny Opera, The Cradle Will Rock and depression era musicals. The excellent choreography by Aubrey Adams pays homage to Fose, Robbins and classic Broadway with movements that are frantic chaos but theatrically thrilling, Urinetown contains several show stopping numbers fueled with terrific choral singing.
We hear the gospel tune “Run Freedom Run” song that highlights act two plus musical and dance references to The Boyfriend, Dames at Sea, Little Mary Sunshine, West Side Story, Guys & Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Annie, Chicago and Les Miserables. These clever references add laughter and underscores the show’s satire of musicals. The show makes reference to the show’s ‘lousy’ title (Urinetown) and the policeman (Scott Danielson as officer Lockstock) and the little girl (Ariana Burks as Little Sally) narrate with deadpan wit. This adds another layer to the spectacle and to the fine script and excellent songs that are funny yet appropriate. “Don’t be a Bunny” is cute yet philosophical as it tells about corporate power. With songs like “It’s a Privilege to Pee,” we laugh and wonder what’s going on here? Soon we realize that it is theatrically wonderful. We can’t resist.
Urinetown’s finest moments are ensemble drawn numbers with exuberant dance and rich choral singing (the Marc Blitzstein effect). We like the funny Scott Danielson as Officer Lockstock, the dedicated officer and narrator. He brings a hilarious presence as he works well with Burk’s Little Sally, the Annie type inquisitive child who comments on the shows action with him. Molly Kral lands several songs in the best Ethel Merman tradition as Penelope Pennywise. Donterrio Johnson, as Caldwell, charms us with his greedy philosophy in intense satire. Courtney Mack, as Hope Caldwell, is pure innocence and singers her songs with innocent humor and naive sincerity. Henry McGinniss is the boyish ‘hero’ Bobby Strong. He sings wonderfully as he leads the revolt with winning aplomb. McGinniss anchors the fine ensemble of ‘poor folks’ who perform the show’s manic numbers, especially in the rousing “Run, Freedom, Run” show-stopper. In Urinetown, the ‘poor folks’ win over the audience.
The bizarre plot and crude themes may offend some—and that’s the point. Urinetown uses camp and satire hard, in-you-face. The lesson here is that pushing the boundaries can result in a hilariously entertaining night that celebrates musical theatre. As the production works hard to please, its sheer energy wins our favor. This seldom seen musical is so appropriate with all the chaos of the Trump administration that it becomes a cautionary tale of political mismanagement. You’ll have a good time as this dedicated troupe rips our foibles in a most entertaining way.
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2017.
For more info checkout the Urinetown page at theatreinchicago.com.
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, www.bohotheatre.com, tickets $33 – $35, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through March 26, 2017.