Opening Nights: Urinetown

I long to declare that I love this musical-comedy revival; in truth, however, I’m ambivalent. Back in 2001, Urinetown earned a few Tony Awards; over a decade later, the satire has worn thin.

This is not a happy musical. I overheard an audience member call it “Les Miz in a toilet,” not a bad way of encapsulating the over-the-top woes of this spoof created by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis. (Jake Groshong directs the coproduction between Balagan Theatre and Seattle Musical Theatre.) In brief, a 20-year drought leads to the privatization of all restroom endeavors by the mega-corporation “Urine Good Company,” pushing people to pay to pee while imposing powerful penal codes that, if breached, bestow banishment to Urinetown. After the exile of his father, facility attendant Bobby Strong (Frederick Hagreen) starts a revolution. From there, Urinetown mocks both the conventions of musical theater and the heavy-handed, wealth-favoring policies of Rudy Giuliani’s reign over New York City. Its populist plot is akin to the Occupy Movement before there was an Occupy Movement.

In Act Two’s opening number, Little Sally (Tatum Ludlam) sings, “For Urinetown is your town if you’re hopeless, down, and out!” (Anyone who’s waited for the bus at Third and Pine will know the same feeling—with nary a public restroom in sight.) Despite the intentionally hokey plot and stock characters, the cast does a splendid job in not letting Urinetown dwindle into live-action cartoon. Notably, the banter between Doug Willott’s Officer Lockstock and Ludlam’s Little Sally made me think, “Never has exposition been so witty and endearing.” With the help of musical director Matthew Wright and choreographer Tori Spero, Groshong nicely balances the technical elements with delightful acting, singing, and dancing.

My only craft quibble is costume designer Carmen Olmedo outfitting Senator Fipp (Ryan Demerick) in an ill-fitting white suit. First, a legislator, especially one procuring payouts from a mega-corporation, would don a tailored suit. Is this symbolism to never trust a man in an ill-fitting suit? Second, why white? Is this a tribute to The Dukes of Hazzard’s Boss Hogg?

But I digress. I remain favorably indifferent to Urinetown because, notwithstanding this fine presentation, it’s hard to care much about these clever stage caricatures who so knowingly comment on their own plight.

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