If you have never seen Urinetown, nothing can prepare you for the level of absurdity and comical madness that is the musical that debuted in 2001 and was nominated for ten Tony awards, winning three. With book by Greg Kotis, music by Mark Hollman, and lyrics by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman, the story takes place in a mythical town that has been suffering from a crippling drought for 20 years, causing a horrible water shortage and the privatization of all bathrooms.
In this wretched place, where everyone must pay to relieve themselves and law-breakers are arrested and sent to the mysterious “Urinetown” from which they never return, a fresh face appears and unintentionally inspires a rebellion. Protests ensue and the mega-corporation that runs the restrooms must quell the masses or lose their grip on power.
The set, which was a collaboration of the production and set build team, has a revolving centerpiece with a stone circular wall on one side and the interior of an office on the other that, along with striking lighting design by Christina Giles, creates a great contrast between the grimy streets of the town and the pristine interior of the UGC (Urine Good Company), which runs the public toilets.
The score is challenging, but all of the music and harmonies are beautifully clear and sharp in the little black box theater, under the guidance of Musical Director Paige Austin Rammelkamp and thanks to the work of Director Dan Stapula and Sound Board Operator Clare Pfeifer.
Officer Lockstock, played by Bob Gudauskas, is the law on the streets and the narrator. With the assistance of Little Sally (Mel Gumina), a lovable, shockingly intelligent urchin, the two explain the premise of the show, with full acknowledgment that the audience is seeing a performance and laying out the groundwork for what makes a good production and what can kill it stone dead in “Too Much Exposition.”
Gudauskas is appropriately unsympathetic and all too elated about his role in the town. His interactions with Gumina’s Sally are dripping with sarcasm and set the tone for an evening filled with potty humor, sprinkled with political corruption and abuse of power.
The “Cop Song” sung by Gudauskas’ Officer Lockstock and Officer Barrel (Alden Michels) —you heard that right — highlights the joy of their jobs with its fast-talking silly lyrics:
And it’s a hard, cold tumble of a journey
Worthy of a gurney, a bumble down
A slapped face, smacked with a mace
Certain to debase is our stumble down
Ashton Schaffer plays Bobby Strong, who works at the poorest neighborhood toilet, Public Amenity #9, and is the show’s necessary protagonist. He is the assistant to the hard-nosed Penelope Pennywise (Jolene Vettese), whose no-nonsense line on the rules in “Privilege to Pee” leads to the arrest of Bobby’s hard-up pop, Joseph “Old Man” Strong (Preston Grover), who can’t afford the rate and pees on the street. Vettese is alluring in a backstreet, trashy way befitting the theme.
Hope Cladwell (Amanda Mason) is the love interest and aforementioned “fresh face,” who turns out to be the daughter of main villain and UGC bigwig Caldwell B. Cladwell (Brian Lyons-Burke). Hope deals with her own existential problem of reconciling being a genuinely good person with obeying her father but not before capturing the attention of Schaffer’s Bobby in the quirky and weirdly romantic “Follow Your Heart.” Schaffer and Mason are adorably naive and impressionable, playing the love-struck, soap opera drama of two young kids from opposite sides of the political spectrum.
The full cast consists of 17 people, and every part is featured at one point or another, requiring a strong triple-threat cast in which no one can escape notice and therefore all deserve mention: Cam Powell is Dr. Billeaux/Tiny Tom; Daniel Lakin plays Mr. McQueen; Apollo Yong is the smarmy Senator Fipp; Ariel Friendly is Soupy Sue; Suzy Alden plays Little Becky Two Shoes; Audrey Baker is the feisty Josephine “Ma” Strong; Shakil Aziz is Hot Blades Harry; Kyle Donovan plays Billy Boy Bill; and Ariel Kraje is Robbie the Stockfish.
Choreography by Stefen Sittig is an amalgamation of wild, raucous fun and tight, controlled movement. With the frantic desperation of “Snuff That Girl” to the Gospel-esque inspirational “Run Freedom Run,” every number is a total blast.
The scenes are chock full of subtle digs, blatant farce, and distressingly spot-on depictions of modern-day debauchery. Lyons-Burke as Caldwell is the villain who loves to be hated, and his diabolical pitch for predatory behavior to his daughter, “Don’t Be the Bunny,” is so wickedly grotesque you feel dirty but you still laugh with him.
The entire show is one big guilty pleasure. That dark and twisted side of society that knows misery loves company and thrives on schadenfreude. But one of the beauties of the musical is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, as is demonstrated by the melodramatic “WHAAAAT?!” response of the entire cast anytime a surprise or twist is introduced into the plot. The script is heavily reliant on comedic timing, and the actors deliver with precision every.single.time.
The Workhouse’s Urinetown is a knockout production with a great cast and equally stellar design. While the premise is ridiculously outlandish, the social commentary on actual policy, fiscal prejudices, and the corporate greed that pervades our society rings bracingly true and offers uproarious comedy with a reality gut punch.
Don’t miss this hilarious musical comedy that had the audience on their feet. Prepare to be gleefully offended and laugh so hard a little pee comes out. But don’t worry, the Workhouse’s bathrooms are still free. For now.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Urinetown plays through June 3, 2023, at the Workhouse Arts Center located at the W-3 Theater, 9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton, VA. Tickets ($35 for general admission, $30 for military and seniors, and $20 for students) are available for purchase online or by calling 703.584.2900.
COVID Safety: Masks are no longer required.
Urinetown the Musical
Book by Greg Kotis, music by Mark Hollman, lyrics by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman
Officer Lockstock: Bob Gudauskas; Penelope Pennywise: Jolene Vettese; Bobby Strong: Ashton Schaffer; Little Sally: Mel Gumina; Hope Cladwell: Amanda Mason; Caldwell B. Cladwell: Brian Lyons: Burke; Dr. Billeaux/Tiny Tom: Cam Powell; Mr. McQueen: Daniel Lakin; Senator Fipp: Apollo Yong; Officer Barrel: Alden Michels; Joseph “Old Man” Strong: Preston Grover; Soupy Sue: Ariel Friendly; Little Becky Two Shoes: Suzy Alden; Josephine “Ma” Strong: Audrey Baker; Hot Blades Harry: Shakil Aziz; Billy Boy Bill: Kyle Donovan; Robbie the Stockfish: Ariel Kraje (Dance Captain); Swings: Ariel Kraje and Jeremy Venook; Understudy (Robbi): Gabrielle Williams
Director: Dan Stapula; Music Director: Paige Austin Rammelkamp; Choreographer: Stefan Sittig; Stage Manager: Rob Cork; Producers: Liz Colandene and Joseph Wallen; Props Design: Marty Bernier; Costume Design: Priscilla Stapula; Costumer: Michiel DeVito and Ann Powell; Hair Design: Rachael Norberg; Makeup Design: Lauren Sullivan; Lighting Design: Christina Giles; Light Operator/ME: Brian Bachrach; Sound Operator: Clare Pfeifer; Musicians: Stephen Cannistraci (trombone/euphonium), Richard Demy, Scott Friday, Dana Gardner, Ben Green, Nick Graziano (bass), Jim Hofmann (percussion), Zack Thompson, and Lindsay Williams (reeds); Build Crew: Brian Bachrach, Marty Bernier, Rick Campbell, Justin Cimino, Farrah Elam, Michael Doyle, Merissa Driscoll, Pat Mahoney, Cheryl Neway, Rachael Norberg, Quinn Ragsdale, Ali Rocha, Betsy Ryan, and Sam Sabo