SALT LAKE CITY — Behold, a story of class distinctions, oppression, corruption, and revolution. Weighty topics, don’t you think? So, let’s lighten it up a bit with a concept that makes most school kids giggle. This play is about pee.
Synopsis time, I guess. There’s a water shortage in this play and a need to regulate consumption. That sort of crisis would affect many areas of life, as the character of Little Sally (Katie Jones) points out, but in Urinetown: The Musical, the time is limited and focus is on toilet usage. Unless you have the dough ($), you do not get to go.
One of the poor, a kind-hearted amenity assistant, named Bobby Strong (Sean Bishop), is inspired by the new girl in town, named Hope (Kim Stephenson.) He dreams of a better future, and decides to lead a rebellion. He says no to the laws restricting free urination, and his peers follow suit. Bobby’s love interest, though, turns out to be the daughter of Cladwell B. Cladwell (Kim Blackett), the evil executive who has been oppressing the town all along. When Hope finds out that Bobby is facing off against her father, inner torment ensues. Also some kidnapping, and police work, and gritty musical numbers.
The technical elements of the show created such wonderful contrast between the poor folk and the rich folk. (Keven Myhre created the set, Seth Miller was on lighting, and Brendy Van der Weil provided the costumes.) The elite upper-class work in the shining tower of the Urine Good Company, where everyone is dressed professionally. Their choreography is crisp, their applause is brisk. In the scenes where these characters occupy the stage, lights are bright and faces are smiling. The other half live a little bit differently, in a set like a sewer with yellow and green lighting. Actors have messy hair (designed by Yancey J. Quick) and tousled and grungy clothing. They are stooped, uncomfortable and scowling. They sing with passion, though, and they move with urgency.
The performance quality was high overall. Some strong voices came from that stage, including Kim Stephenson as Hope, Sean Bishop as Bobby, and Camille Van Wagoner as Penelope Pennywise. “Follow Your Heart” in the first act was a gorgeous scene with Stephenson and Bishop. Their characters were so believable in the way they interacted; their spark of romance was sweet. The choreography throughout the show was interesting and exciting (Jim Christian) with a different style fitting each social class; the ensemble danced and sang as employees, policemen, and poor average Joes. One bearded ensemble member stood out to me, his name is William Richardson; he had great character and enthusiasm. I was very impressed with the talent of the actors.
Complaints? When the notes got high, the orchestra and singers weren’t always on pitch. It made me turn my head and squint a little. Rare, though. Overall, this is a great evening of theatre.
Lastly, I have to admit that the story (by Greg Kotis) disappointed me in the end. I guess I’m just a fan of the traditional musical, and Officer Lockstock (Hank Pond) makes sure the audience knows that Urinetown: The Musical is not one of “those shows.” I don’t want to give it away, so I’ll just say that I was left a little perplexed and truthfully, bummed out, at the way the plot resolved itself. It did not, however, change my overall opinion of the show, which is that it was a powerful and commendable performance. Go see it. You’ll run to the bathroom afterwards, but you did, after all, pay the fee.