Review: ‘Urinetown’ at Constellation Theatre Company

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In the not too distant future there will be a drought so long and severe that water use will become strictly regulated. So regulated that even your right to pee will be in doubt. How will you handle this dystopian future? Will you, like Caldwell B. Cladwell run the nefarious “Urine Good Company” corporation, earning millions from the misery of others? Or maybe you will be a Bobby Strong and lead a rebellion of oppressed masses who just want the freedom to pee for free?

Rick Westerkamp, Emily Madden, Harrison Smith, Patrick Murphy Doneghy, Katie Keyser (center), Christian Montgomery, Matthew Aldwin McGee, and Carl Williams (floor). Photo by Daniel Schwartz.
Rick Westerkamp, Emily Madden, Harrison Smith, Patrick Murphy Doneghy, Katie Keyser (center), Christian Montgomery, Matthew Aldwin McGee, and Carl Williams (floor). Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

Urinetown is a delicious tongue-in-cheek tale of oppression and corporate greed in which citizens are forced to pay to use public toilets and peeing at home or in the bushes is punishable by being sent to Urinetown, a mysterious penal colony (or is it?) from which no one ever returns.

Constellation Theatre Company has mounted a stellar version of Urinetown. The creative team – led by Director Allison Arkell Stockman, Choreographer Illona Kessell, and Scenic and Lighting Designer A.J. Guban – present a seamless production in which set, story, music, lighting and costumes work together to create the illusion of a much larger production.

Seemingly huge production numbers defy the size of the stage in number after number of well-choreographed dance routines. To name but a few, the hilarious “Cop Song” in which Officers Lockstock (Matt Dewberry) and Barrel (Christian Montgomery) dance like a couple in an old Fred Astaire movie or “Mr. Cladwell” in which a kickline of dancers push Mr. Cladwell around on a rolling staircase.

A.J. Guban’s set – a grungy collection of corrugated metal, brick and chainlink – and masterful lighting were of one piece in truly enhancing this production. Palmer Hefferan excellent sound design and Kevin Laughon’s props added to the ambiance. Robert Croghan’s costume design did a great job of separating the “haves” from the “have-nots” and his cartoonish costumes for the despicable Urine Good Company officials accentuated the show’s satirical nature.

Jenna Berk and Matt Dewberry. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.
Jenna Berk and Matt Dewberry. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

Excellent performances were given by everyone in this ensemble of fifteen talented performers. Matt Dewberry and Jenna Berk played a great comedic team as Officer Lockstock and Little Sally. Broadway veteran Christine Nolan Essig’s Penelope Pennywise set a high bar for vocals early in the show with a booming voice and commanding stage presence in the song “It’s a Privilege to Pee,” and she showed off another side of her impressive vocal skills in “I’m Not Sorry.”

Nicklas Aliff’s Caldwell B. Cladwell seemed pulled from a comic book with his over-the-top evilness and simpering minion (played to great effect by Harrison Smith) by his side. In numerous song and dance numbers like “Mr. Cladwell” and “Don’t Be the Bunny,” Aliff exhibited a strong voice, slick dance moves and the ability to roll dense lyrics off his tongue without pause.

Katie Keyser was perfection as Hope Cladwell, a role that runs the gamut of emotions and requires great comedic timing and strong vocals in ballads such as “Follow Your Heart.”

Helen Hayes Award winner Vaughn Ryan Midder is back as Bobby Strong in a role that is well suited to his voice in songs such as “Look at the Sky” and “Run Freedom Run.”

Vaughn Ryan Midder and Katie Keyser. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.
Vaughn Ryan Midder and Katie Keyser. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

The five-piece band (Manny Arciniega, drums; Jason Wilson, Bass; Dana Gardner, Reeds; Brad Emmett, Low Brass), led by Music Director Jake Null on piano, produced the sound of a much larger group in their effortless performance of this upbeat score.

With book and lyrics by Greg Kotis and music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann, Urinetown is one of few musicals to premiere at the New York Fringe Festival and skyrocket to Broadway fame, winning three Tony Awards in 2002.

Like last year’s production of Avenue Q, Constellation’s outstanding Urinetown may also clean up at the 2017 Helen Hayes Awards. Don’t miss this Urinetown! It’s the must see show of the year! It’s a real pisser.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

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Urinetown plays through October 9, 2016, at Constellation Theatre Company performing at Source – 1835 14th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call (202) 204-7741, or purchase them online.

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