Theater Review: URINETOWN THE MUSICAL (Long Beach Playhouse)

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by Tony Frankel on November 14, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles


People start revolutions because they want something that authorities are controlling. Jefferson wanted to declare independence. Norma Rae wanted to improve factories. Katniss wanted to feed masses. Bobby Strong in the musical Urinetown — now in a truly smashing production at Long Beach Playhouse — wants to pee for free. After a drought created ‘stink years’, the Urine Good Company conglomerate steps in to regulate urination. People are forced to do their private business in public bathrooms. And this necessity reliever comes at a price. When Bobby’s dad  can’t pay for the privilege, he pisses off the police, who send the hapless urinator to a mysterious dead end called Urinetown from which no one ever returns.

The creative team of Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis take bathroom humor to a whole other level. They use pay toilets to ridicule the insensitivity of capitalists for the poor, the corruption of law enforcement and the crazy antics of people that really-really-gotta-go. No one’s safe from this silly shit. With a neo-Brechtian plot by Kotis and neo-Weill score by Hollmann, this tongue-in-cheek tribute to underdogs everywhere is narrated by Officer Lockstock (the wonderfully unctuous Derek Rubiano). From the start he spills the show’s strategies, such as avoiding any excessive exposition. It works: we all like being taken in. The cop also tells us not to expect a happy ending, perhaps to keep this musical from being confused with any other. Hollman and Kotis even make fun of themselves by having this cop continually debate the merits of this show with Little Sally (Via May). Their shtick is comedy duo perfection.

Improbably, however, this presentational meta-musical isn’t just a Lez Miz or a Rent with laughs — it’s a love story between rabble-rouser Bobby Strong (the perfectly cast, strong-voiced Zachary Balagot) and Hope Cladwell (an hysterically understated Fadeke Oparinde), daughter of the UGC corporate bigwig Caldwell B. Cladwell (Eric Schiffer). These mismatched and star-crossed mates get caught up in a revolt that begins at Amenity #9, the filthiest “comfort station” in town, and features a kidnapping, a not-so-secret hideout, a blood sacrifice, and revelations straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan. Can these crusaders who follow their heart stand up to Officers Lockstock and Barrel (Gary Douglas) and proclaim the innocence of their rage? I think so.

There is a real vaudeville style to this musical and director Rovin Jay flushes it out for pure satisfaction and some truly funny moments. The show whizzes past with some dazzling staging and singing by the large super-distinctive ensemble. (Quite a miracle given this is so-called “community theater.”) By the Animal Farm-like end, an ambivalent combination of eco-tragedy and apocalyptic anarchy, one crisis has only been exchanged for another. But, if not the characters, the audience has unleashed its own (laugh) riot. We’re delighted by a rambunctious score — perfectly shaped by Stephen Olear (also on the keys) and backed by a scrappy orchestra — that both sends up its own sentiment (the ironic “I See a River”) and dances up a funky storm (“Snuff That Girl”), the major moves here motivated by Sonya L. Randall, who also co-directs. In our plutocratic and solipsistic Trump era, where souls and stuff are always up for sale, the show punches home potent points about corporate greed, mismanaged natural resources, political corruption, and, especially, the anti-social nature of deregulation and privatizing. Silly never seemed so dark and serious.

photos courtesy of Long Beach Playhouse

Long Beach Playhouse
Studio Theatre 5021 E. Anaheim Street Long Beach
ends on November 19, 2022
for tickets, visit LB Playhouse

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