There's no relief in "Urinetown"

Kelrik Productions visits a world where not even going to the bathroom is free

Special to The TribuneJune 12, 2013 

An enthusiastic Kelrik cast takes the satirical “Urinetown, the Musical” and runs with it, fueled by comic energy and lively song and dance. Director Lester Wilson encourages the cast to take advantage of the sense of spontaneity endowed by writers Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, who are former improv comics. Each actor adds his or her humorous imprint to the role.

The story is a take-off on the musical genre, and part of the fun is identifying the song-and-dance numbers patterned after other musicals. A small but mighty live band provides the music. The narrator, Officer Lockstock, played by Ryan Manus, explains that this is not a “happy musical.”

The story takes place in a city of the future where a 20-year drought has caused such a water shortage that private toilets have been banned, and people must pay to pee.

After what was called “the stink years,” Urine Good Company, headed by the evil Caldwell B. Cladwell, has bribed legislators and manipulated police to enforce its monopoly on the public toilets. People who relieve themselves on the streets are sent to mysterious Urinetown, a place from which they never return.

Bobby Strong leads a group of the rebel poor in an uprising against the system. He falls in love with Hope Cladwell, the bad guy’s beautiful daughter, but idealism, dreams and hope for the future are not enough in the face of climate change and depletion of the world’s resources. The show was written in 2001, and unfortunately, it is more relevant today than it was then.

This all may sound grim, but it’s far from it. In fact, because of the broad comic style, it’s often hilarious, with songs and dances based on other musicals. A brief battle, accelerated by strobe lights, recalls the “Les Miserables” uprising, and there’s a “Fiddler”-like Cossack dance with the dancers wearing plungers on their heads. Romantic duets by Bobby and Hope are iconic, and a rousing spiritual makes the small ensemble sound like a choir. A plot twist is similar to one in “Sweeney Todd,” and there are more familiar moments.

Lacey McNamara is musical director and also pianist in the band, along with Cheryl Post on drums and Mitch Houseman on bass. Joe Ogren, choreographer, has been seen on Central Coast stages since he was a child. He’s home from New York for the summer and has set some lively dance numbers for the show.

Cody Pettit, who has had roles in most recent Kelrik shows, is Bobby Strong, who stirs up the poor folks to rally for free peeing after his father is sent to Urinetown for relieving himself in the street. Pettit plays Bobby as sweet and rather clueless, inspired by Hope, who tells him to follow his dream. Sarah Reggiardo is well cast as Hope, and she has a lovely voice to sing duets with Bobby. Arash Shahabi, in a wild fake beard, plays Bobby’s father, and Sandy Schwarer is good as his mother.

Caitlin Tobin is delightful as Little Sally, a streetwise urchin who often questions Officer Lockstock and keeps him informed about what is happening. Lockstock’s goofy sidekick, Officer Barrell (get the joke?) is played with silliness by Ryan Vasquez.

The nasty Mr. Cladwell is played as cold and heartless by Kenny Taylor, clad well in a stiff suit. His colorfully dressed staff is part of the strong ensemble of singers and dancers. Danielle Mendoza, wearing a flamboyant mustache, plays Senator Flipp, Cladwell’s man in the legislature. Debora Schwartz is tough as Penelope Pennywise, gatekeeper and money changer at the public toilets.

Standouts in the fine ensemble are Chloe Davis, as a pregnant protester, and Redzuan Abdul Rahin as a manic member of the resisters. The six- member ensemble joins the principals in the rousing song and dance numbers, making the cast seem larger than it really is.

Director Wilson and Erik Austin designed the set, which goes from gritty urban toilet facilities to Cladwell’s office to a sewer hideout.

This is one of those big musicals that translates well into a small space, its comedy and its message intact.

At intermission the rest room line was out the door — power of suggestion maybe — and people were joking about how much it should cost to use the facilities.

IF YOU GO

"Urinetown"
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through June 29
Unity, 1490 Southwood Drive, San Luis Obispo
$20
543-7529 or www.kelrikproductions.org

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