On the surface, Urinetown, the Musical, Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis's Tony Award-winning comedic tour-de-force, does everything wrong: There's the utterly tasteless title, the bizarre premise that imagines a futuristic city where the citizens have to pay to pee, and, of course, the fact that the show takes several well-directed jabs at the whole genre of Broadway musicals. But somehow, all these elements add up to a wildly original parody that is a delight to behold, especially when the production is as good as the one now running at Main Street Theater.
Despite its awards, the show operates without pretension. The small cast of 16 is backed up by a three-member band that sits on stage behind the actors. But the sound is big enough to fill up the theater. Opening number "Urinetown" takes off like a rocket and fills the night with promise. Happily, everyone in this cast delivers.
As Officer Lockstock, the show's narrator, Kregg Alan Dailey takes full control of the story from the opening lines, finding a perfect balance between biting irony and humor: "Well, hello there," he says to the audience, arching his eyebrows and his velvety voice, "and welcome to Urinetown! Not the place, of course, the musical!" He then explains the issue at hand -- we're outside a public urinal, watching poor folks clinging to their pennies, waiting in line for the "privilege" to pee.
Helping Lockstock is Little Sally (played with tough-as-nails-charm by Katharine Randolph), a street urchin who moves the conflict along by asking helpful questions like, "Is this where you tell the audience about the water shortage?" As it turns out, the whole pay-for-a-pee idea started during the "stink years," when water ran so short toilets couldn't work.
But what started out as positive social reform has been turned into evil by the dreadful machinations of Caldwell B. Cladwell, the meanest, richest guy in town. It's clear Jimmy Phillips is having a blast as corporate conniver Cladwell, who dreams of spending all the money he's making from his peeing customers in Rio. He saved the town from the stink years but lost his soul somewhere along the way. And now he wants to raise the price on the "amenities."
As with all musicals, there's a hero here. He's Bobby Strong, a young man who takes on The Man and leads the people to revolt. But first he's got to fall in love, of course, and who else would he choose but Hope Cladwell, the evildoer's beautiful daughter, just back from college? The young lovers are played by Michael J. Ross and Alison Luff, a lovely pair of hysterically funny ingnues who sparkle with chemical fire. Their duet "Follow Your Heart" is one of the high points of the show.
But since Urinetown is a parody of the conventions of musicals, their big love takes a wild turn when Bobby and his gang take Hope hostage in an effort to get Cladwell to listen to reason. The plot line that follows is unpredictable, profoundly relevant to our current troubles with global warming and laugh-out-loud funny.
Parody works in other ways here, and anyone who likes musicals will enjoy the smart little explosions of irony director Ilich Guardiola ignites in his productions. The show pokes fun at everything from Les Misrables to Cabaret to Big River. Especially funny is "Snuff That Girl," a dance number in which the revolting citizens get so caught up in their outlaw status, they decide they want to kill Hope just for the fun of it. The number's jazz-like dance looks like a cross between Bob Fosse's choreography and the moves of the cool kids of West Side Story, taking the whole notion of good kids gone bad to the edge of absurdity.
Guardiola proves his directorial chops in just about every aspect of this production. His cast is perfect, his staging is flawless, the dance numbers are hilarious and the entire pace of the show is a joy. As one of the best musicals produced on any stage in Houston this year, Urinetown is golden.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events