The company’s 35th season opened splendidly Saturday with the rousing absurdity of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman’s self-mocking satire “Urinetown: The Musical.” Director Jason Tucker and his colleagues have obviously worked hard to make it look so entertainingly easy.
“Well, hello there. And welcome – to Urinetown!” the show’s narrator, the charming but ever-dutiful Officer Lockstock (played by Jacob York, an always welcome entertainment import from Atlanta), tells us before setting the musical’s tone: “Not the place, of course. The musical. Urinetown ‘the place’ is … well, it’s a place you’ll hear people referring to a lot throughout the show.”
Indeed you do. But this show won’t stand for being too “wordy,” as noted in dialogue that occurs a short time later between Lockstock and the sweet but extremely precocious street urchin Little Sally (played by Galen Crawley, York’s wife and every bit the fine actor her spouse is):
LITTLE SALLY: Say, Officer Lockstock, is this where you tell the audience about the water shortage?
LOCKSTOCK: What’s that, Little Sally?
LITTLE SALLY: You know, the water shortage. The hard times. The drought. A shortage so awful that private toilets eventually became unthinkable. A premise so absurd that—
LOCKSTOCK: Whoa there, Little Sally. Not all at once. They’ll hear more about the water shortage in the next scene.
LITTLE SALLY: Oh. I guess you don’t want to overload them with too much exposition, huh?
LOCKSTOCK: Everything in its time, Little Sally. You’re too young to understand it now, but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.
That’s true of reviews as well. Suffice it to say that after a 20-year drought calls of nature are done at public amenities for a fee. That fee goes to the private Urine Good Company run by the utterly ruthless Caldwell B. Cladwell (played with great oily charm by Chip Arnold), whose monopoly is built on bribes to lawmakers like the corrupt Senator Fipp (Matthew Carlton amusingly channeling his inner South Carolinian) and enforced by such on-the-take officers as Lockstock and his partner, Officer Barrel (a devilishly delightful turn by Samuel Whited).
“Urinetown” is a marvelous mix of the dystopian and droll; satire sits comfortably beside silliness, a high-wire act of storytelling as farce since a delicate balance is needed to keep things both clever and coherent. It’s as if Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht and Clifford Odets joined a writer’s room with Mel Brooks and Eugène Ionesco after channeling the spirit of Victor Hugo and didn’t come out until they had a funny, biting, witty take on social injustice as well as corporate and governmental corruption.
Whew! It’s no surprise that in 2002 Kotis copped a Tony for his book, while he and composer Hollman won for the show’s score and John Rando won for his direction of the piece. (Incidentally, that came on the same night “Elaine Stritch at Liberty” won a Best Special Theatrical Event Tony, to keep my Stritch motif going in a very tangential way.)
There are so many golden nuggets to mine from Kotis and Hollman’s musical that I could write a review double the size of this one, but I’ll behave by not spoiling all the fun and mention a few of the many highlights: Megan Murphy Chambers going full Lotte Lenya in “It’s a Privilege to Pee” as Penelope Pennywise, the sell-out with a big secret; returning hometown talents Mitchell Ryan Miller and Mariah Parris turning love into a painfully funny experience (I laughed so hard I began to choke!) as star-crossed lovers Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell in “Follow Your Heart,” and the ensemble featuring those two and such great triple-threats as Garris Wimmer (Hot Blades Harry) and Tamiko Robinson Steele (Little Becky-Two Shoes) in the gas-of-a-gospel-like “Run, Freedom, Run!”
Everywhere you turn your head there’s something fun to see – Derek Whittaker as the obsequious Mr. McQueen and Rona Carter as the long, long suffering Josephine “Ma” Strong may not read as hilarious given their character descriptions, but these stage vets get you giggling every time they’re on. The same for Scott Rice as Tiny Tom – even that character name’s a hoot, of course. The rest of the ensemble hangs right with these entertaining folks – Meggan Utech, Mike Sallee, Maria Logan, Juan Graterol and Ayla Williams take a back seat to no one with their acting, singing and dancing abilities.
Pamela Atha (in concert with Tucker for the musical staging) choreographs with her impeccable sense of story, characters, rhythms and energies. Aiding Tucker on the music side to playfully render the show’s musical-theater-sendup score is the very gifted Kelsi Fulton. The three of them make a masterful musical trinity, and they’re joined in this excellent endeavor by several gifted theater professionals like Artistic Associate Erica Jo Lloyd.
Gary C. Hoff’s metal-and-rust set (fulfilled by the work of Scene Shop Foreman R. Preston Perrin and Master Carpenter Tucker Steinlage, among others) captures the spirit and themes of this show perfectly. You don’t need my description of it to know that, though – just look at the Michael Scott Evans production pictures that accompany this review and you’ll see what I mean.
Likewise for Colleen Garatoni’s costumes – her work always reflects and enhances the characterizations of the actors that wear her creations (her team includes Costume Manager Lori Gann-Smith, Wardrobe Supervisor Lakeland Gordon, Costume Technician Lauren Terry and Rentals Manager Emily Irene Peck). Amanda Creech’s contributions as props master are no less inspired, and round out our understanding of the people, places and actions in “Urinetown.”
Kudos should also go to Director of Production Christopher L. Jones, Lighting Designer Dalton Hamilton and Sound Designer Randy Craft for their top-flight technical contributions along with Run Crew members Maggie Jackson and Karch Abramson. Their wonderful complements to other elements in this production allow each moment of this “Urinetown” to shine and be heard with clarity and creativeness.
And last, but never least, my customary and well-deserved shout-out to the ever-important folks in stage management. If you’re ever in doubt about what keeps shows going, seek out Stage Manager Teresa Driver and Assistant Stage Manager Kristen Goodwin: It’s obvious they know exactly what their unceasingly demanding positions require and a big “Bravo!” to them!
From founding company member Wimmer to newcomers like Sallee, from Managing Director Drew Ogle to members of the troupe’s internship programs (which include several “Urinetown” cast and crew members), Nashville Rep is not only still here, it’s positively thriving, as their delightfully droll “Urinetown” attests. Go see it, then let’s check out the rest of their 35th season starting with “Pipeline” in October.
Nashville Repertory Theatre’s production of “Urinetown” continues through Sept. 29 in the Johnson Theater at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (500 Deaderick St.). Click here for more information; click here to buy tickets.