Review: ‘Urinetown: The Musical’ at Nextstop Theatre Company

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Imagine a musical about a revolution, where a few scrappy rebels fight for the dignity of their fellow man against a tyrannical few. Now add a score that satirizes every musical under the sun, a policeman who takes a break from acting every now and then to comment on the way the musical was written, and the premise that a corporation could control the population by restricting their ability to use the restroom—et voilà! Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann’s Urinetown is born. “This is not a happy musical,” as one of the characters remarks. But NextStop Theatre Company’s production boasts both spirited choreography and farcical antics in a musical unlike any other. 

The cast of Urinetown: The Musical: (toilet paper flag: Lynn Audrey Neal, top row L-R: Grant Saunders, Malcolm Lee, Dani Ebbin, Ricky Drummond, Amy Maniscalco, Teresa Danskey; bottom: Ryan Manning, Bobby Libby, Christopher Gillsespie, Jennifer Lambert, Brent Stone, John Loughney; and trashcan: John Sygar. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

The show opens with Officer Lockstock, a policeman very aware that he is in a play, explaining recent historical events to the audience (“Too Much Exposition”). According to Lockstock and his street urchin friend, Little Sally (Amy Maniscalco), a twenty-year drought has caused an extreme shortage of water. After a period of chaos, a megacorporation called the “Urine Good Company” solved the water crisis by making people pay to use the bathroom.

If anyone breaks the law, they are sent to “Urinetown”—a mysterious place from which they never return. The UGC is run by Caldwell B. Cladwell, who is played with diabolical glee by Christopher Gillespie. Cladwell revels in his own riches and power, and Gillespie makes this bombastic figure at times humorous, at times evil, and energetic enough to sail through Kelly d’Amboise’s demanding choreography in songs like “Mr. Cladwell.”

Jennifer Lambert (Penelope Pennywise).. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Jennifer Lambert is a hoot as Penelope Pennywise, and her powerful and hilarious “It’s a Privilege to Pee” was a highlight.

Urinetown at once makes fun of stereotypical musical characters—the starstruck lovers fighting for what they believe in, for example—and embraces them. So we are given Bobby Strong (Ricky Drummond), the assistant bathroom custodian at the poorest “Amenity” in the city, whose romance with Cladwell’s daughter Hope (Emily Madden) is both sweet and, at times, completely ridiculous, beginning when they get to know each other in the song “Follow Your Heart.” Their naivety, not to mention the larger-than-life antics of the other characters, might be hard to sell if it weren’t for the way the entire cast throws themselves without hesitation into even the loudest, strangest, and silliest moments of this production. Drummond and the talented ensemble had a field day with “Run, Freedom, Run!”

From the policemen-turned-enforcers Lockstock (Ryan Manning) and Barrel (John Loughney), to the powerless Senator Fipp (Bobby Libby), to the ensemble cast, who play both the poor, urine-filled masses and Cladwell’s devoted flunkeys (Teresa Danskey, Dani Ebbin, Malcolm Lee, Lynn Audrey Neal, Grant Saunders, Brent Stone, and John Sygar), this musical leaves no character lacking in both wackiness and the capacity to surprise.

Director Walter Ware III has created a production that never stops: characters jump between moments of comparative calm and elaborate dance numbers with apparent effortlessness. No musical number ever appears extraneous, illustrating characters’ darkest desires with stunning lighting effects by Lynn Joslin, charming us with Bobby and Hope’s awkward stabs at romance, and parodying musicals such as Les Mis and Fiddler on the Roof—sometimes doing all three things at once. “What Is Urinetown” is a masterpiece of dramatic development, parody, and creative use of plungers.

Bobby Strong (Ricky Drummond, front) leads the revolutionaries (L-R: Dani Ebbin, John Sygar, Amy Maniscalco, Lynn Audrey Neal, Grant Saunders, Teresa Danskey, and Malcolm Lee) . Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Music Director Elisa Rosman and Choreographer Kelly d’Amboise don’t hold back: the cast simply flies through complicated harmonies and elaborate dance numbers. Set Designer Jack Golden has managed to create a set that seamlessly jumps between the deepest sewers and the headquarters of the gleaming UGC office, aided by Designer Neil McFadden’s atmospheric sound, and costumes by Kristina Martin. On a strip of back wall, projections Sean Cox alternate between illustrating place and adding an extra comical commentary. Some audience members will particularly appreciate the Batman reference.

NextStop Theatre Company’s production 0f Urinetown: The Musical is energetic, it is silly, and yet it is also aware of how relevant it is, building in a few references to political events of today. Between ink-black comedy, boundless energy, a dream cast, and a brilliant musical score, it’s not your everyday musical. And it’s a real pisser!

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Urinetown: The Musical plays through June 25, 2017, at NextStop Theatre Company, – 269 Sunset Park Drive, in Herndon, VA. For tickets, call the box office at 866-811-4111, or purchase them online.