Review: ‘Urinetown’ at Monumental Theatre Company

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Urinetown is not what you would call a “feel good” musical. Monumental Theatre Company has mounted this funny and politically-punching show about a town which, due to a catastrophic water shortage, has instituted a hefty fee that everyone must pay anytime they need to use the bathroom, and the eventual revolution that ensues.

Sarah Anne Sillers, Sakile Lyles, Kamau D. Mitchell, Sarah Frances Hope Williams, Chris Rudy and Kaitlin Raine. Photo by Josh Rudy Photography.
Sarah Anne Sillers, Sakile Lyles, Kamau D. Mitchell, Sarah Frances Hope Williams, Chris Rudy, and Kaitlin Raine. Photo by Josh Rudy Photography.

Monumental Theatre Co. is a relatively new theater group, started in 2015.  They are a nonprofit business based in the DMV area and chose to produce Urinetown as a statement on the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as well as a means to raise funds to donate to the Live United Flint Water Fund.

The production is showing in the Ainslie Arts Center of Episcopal High School and the space is perfectly suited for the show. The large room is dingy and dark with the black floor being the stage, the band situated in the front of the room, and the audience in tiered seating on either side.

The set consists of a large A-frame ladder on a small rolling platform which represents the office of Urine Good Company (say it out loud to get the joke), the private company that controls the public bathrooms, and another metal, construction-style raised platform on wheels.  There are also many boxes which are used to represent trash, a barricade, or various stools or chairs.

Director Jenna Duncan and Choreographer Rachel Leigh Dolan do an incredible job with the minimal setting and creatively utilizing the platforms and boxes to create various levels throughout the show.

Alan Naylor and Sakile Lyles. Photo by Josh Rudy Photography.
Alan Naylor and Sakile Lyles. Photo by Josh Rudy Photography.

Officer Lockstock, played by Helen Hayes Award winner Alan Naylor, narrates the story and starts off with a matter-of-fact description of what the show is about, with informed and detailed interjections from Little Sally, played by Sakile Lyles. Naylor is smooth and charming and sells the simple absurdity of the show’s premise and title with a sly smile, asserting to Lyle’s Little Sally that “nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.”

Naylor and Lyles have many moments together, as Lockstock and Sally are the only two characters who break the fourth wall and address the audience.  There are countless comedic moments in the script but one of the highlights is at the height of a confrontation with the rebels against the officials and police who run the town. The action freezes and Little Sally runs to Lockstock, anxiously asking, ”What’s happening?” The juxtaposition in the frenzy of action and tension in the show to Lockstock’s calm and placating reassurances to Sally are perfectly timed and it is this duo’s interactions that balance the show and allow the audience to buy into the story.

The singing is incredibly strong, thanks to musical direction by Bobby McCoy, who also plays the keyboard in the live band, along with superb musicians Jack Cohen and Dough Elliott on trombone, Jared Creason and Josh Ballard on Bass, and Jim Hofmann on percussion.

Urinetown’s music is mutli-layered and quite beautiful. Rachel Barlaam plays Penelope Pennywise, the town’s fee collector and overseer of the public bathrooms. Barlaam’s powerful voice booms out at the people of Urinetown in “It’s A Privilege to Pee,” chastising them for trying to get away with peeing for free.

Mr Caldwell (Ian Anthony Coleman), who runs Urine Good Company, is ruthless and slimy. His song, “Don’t Be the Bunny” is fantastically disturbing and, with Dolan’s choreography, also simultaneously hilarious.

At the center of the story are Bobby (Chris Rudy) and Hope (Suzanne Lane), two pie-in-the-sky idealists from different sides of town.  Hope is Cladwell’s daughter and comes to the town to one day take over for her father’s company. Bobby is one of the poor residents of the town, who dreams of a day when everyone can pee for free. But it is a musical and so, of course, the two fall madly in love. Rudy and Lane are lovable from the start and have great chemistry, singing the adorable “Follow Your Heart.” But it is the ballad, “I See a River,” where Lane gets to truly show over her exceptional voice.

Monumental Theatre Company Page Liked · 9 hrs · Chris Rudy and Suzanne Lane. Photo by Josh Rudy Photography.
Chris Rudy and Suzanne Lane. Photo by Josh Rudy Photography.

The number that was the ultimate showstopper, though, was “Snuff That Girl,” sung by Little Becky Two-Shoes (Sarah Anne Sillers), Hot Blades Harry (Kamau Mitchell), and the rest of the Poor. With sharp and explosive choreography from Dolan and the ensemble’s spot-on execution, the song is easily one of the most energetic and intense moments of the show.

Rounding out the cast were Sarah Frances Williams (Ms. McQueen and Soupy Sue), Kaitlin Kemp (Senator Fipp and Josephine Strong), and RJ Pavel (Officer Barrell and Tiny Tom), each tremendously funny with on-point comic timing.

Monumental Theatre Company’s production of Urinetown is a non-stop ride of dark comedy, high energy, and incredible music, with a side of political commentary. The entire ensemble works fluidly together and the show is a blast to experience. It’s a pisser!

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Urinetown plays through Monday, August 1, 2016, at Monumental Theatre Company performing at the Ainslie Arts Center – 3900 West Braddock Road on the Episcopal High School Campus, in Alexandria, VA.  For tickets, go online.

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