Despite listening to the original Broadway cast recording of Urinetown more times than I can count, I have never had the chance to see a full production of the show until now. And I must say, 2nd Star Productions’ interpretation of this campy classic is an utter delight.
For those unfamiliar with this satiric musical, Urinetown takes place in a dystopian city plagued with drought. As a result of this water shortage, the government chooses to ban all private toilets. The head of the Urine Good Company, the ruthless Mr. Caldwell B. Cladwell, works the political system to monetize all amenities in town, making the simple act of relieving oneself incredibly expensive. (“It’s a Privilege to Pee” goes one song.) If anyone is caught peeing without paying, they are hauled off to the mysterious Urinetown, never to be seen again. But Urinetown is so much more than just a social justice tale — it’s also a story of star-crossed lovers. Hope, the naive and idealistic daughter of the iron-fisted Mr. Cladwell, falls in love with young Bobby Strong, an assistant manager of Public Amenity 9 whose own father is exiled to Urinetown after he can’t pay the price of the public lavatory his own son helps to manage. Hope and Bobby’s love incites a dangerous rebellion, and they pay a hefty price to end the oppressive Caldwell regime.
After a short but idyllic walk through the woods to the Bowie Playhouse, my partner and I took our seats among the bustling opening night crowd. Even in the dim light of the preshow, Gene Valendo’s set truly captured the look and feel of a grungy subway bathroom. It stood in stark contrast to the polished Cladwell office, ushered in and out of the space by Ms. McQueen (Cladwell’s long-suffering assistant, played beautifully by Crista Drysdale). The scenic design as a whole gave the cast a wide range of elevations to play with, no doubt helping Director Davis Wootton-Klebanoff create some truly wonderful stage pictures throughout the production. The overall aesthetic is completed by Mary Wakefield’s costumes — appropriately filthy for the citizens of Urinetown and, for Cladwell and his cronies, eerily similar to the fashion of Wall Street in the 1980s.
Music Director Jennifer Butler does a fabulous job of coaxing the very best out of this talented cast. I was quite honestly floored by the vocal abilities of the entire ensemble, completing tricky harmonies with ease. The fact that the performers were not mic’d was truly astounding — their voices were strong, clear, and perfectly audible over the sound of the pit. Wootton-Klebanoff’s direction is also to be commended. He has assembled a true ensemble of performers with picture-perfect comedic timing who understand how to properly milk a good lazzi. From Wendell Holland’s Mufasa-esque “Remember me!” to Natolya Barber’s Les Mis moment waving her mop above the ramparts to McKinley Seale’s hop anytime that anyone on stage says “hope,” Wootton-Klebanoff’s direction keeps the audience laughing on their toes.
I would be remiss not to mention some of the most striking performances from this production. I’m still thinking about the “Cop Song.” With poignant flashlight choreography by Summer Moore, this song took on a darker aesthetic than I was expecting, leaning into the many moments within the show that truly embraced the social justice message of the production (later emphasized by the rebel posters in Act II).
Ryan Power’s Officer Lockstock served as the perfect narrator alongside Barber’s Little Sally. With fourth-wall-breaking aplomb, these two were a match made in heaven (or Urinetown). Their camaraderie was palpable, helping us to better understand why the plucky Little Sally would have befriended someone like Lockstock in the first place. Not to mention, Power holds a power note in this production that is sure to thrill.
Sterling Kee’s Bobby Strong is sweet as honey, and he takes the whole place to church with his stirring rendition of “Run, Freedom, Run.” He is a calm counter to Seale’s bubbly and (seemingly) innocent Hope. Their chemistry is adorable, akin to watching two golden retriever puppies playing outside for the first time. Seale’s tinkling soprano melds wonderfully with Kee’s resonant tenor and is only matched by their comedic timing with each other.
Neva Keuroglian Sullivan’s Penelope Pennywise is also to be commended. With a ridiculously powerful belt, she takes over the stage with her indomitable presence. Trevor Greenfield’s Senator Fipp is achingly familiar to all residing so close to DC, and Robert Howard’s scene-stealing Officer Barrel is a barrel of contradictions in the best ways possible. Keith Rafferty’s Mr. Caldwell B. Cladwell provides a menacing presence, showing no remorse for his actions, even as he makes his own defiant way to Urinetown. The entire ensemble excels throughout, and that includes the stagehands who get to perform one of the best bits in the entire show (not to mention a particularly lethal moment of foley artistry that made the whole audience gasp as one on Opening Night).
2nd Star Productions’ Urinetown is the perfect example of the wealth of talent in the DMV theater community. Fully embracing the “community theater” jokes, they’ve built a solid foundation on the comedic metatheatrics of the show. With a ridiculously skilled cast and a thoughtful team of directors, designers, and choreographers, Urinetown is well worth the drive out to Bowie to have a great night full of laughter.
This Urinetown truly is a privilege to see.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Urinetown plays through March 2, 2024, presented by 2nd Star Productions performing at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Pk Dr in Bowie, MD. For tickets ($25 general admission; $22 for seniors 60+, active military, and students; $15 for children under 12), buy them at the door or purchase them online.
The cast and production team for Urinetown are online here (scroll down).
Urinetown the Musical
Book by Greg Kotis
Music by Mark Hollmann
Lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis