Review: ‘Urinetown’ by Stillpointe Theatre

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Baltimore-based Stillpointe Theatre’s trademark is taking cult and non-mainstream musicals, and with bare-bones resources and the absolute best local talent, delivering productions that make you go, “Wow! I DO love musical theater!” This is true for its summer show, the purposefully unfortunately named Urinetown: The Musical.

The cast of Urinetown at Stillpointe Theater. Photo courtesy of the theater.
The cast of Urinetown at Stillpointe Theatre. Photo courtesy of the theater.

Urinetown is the type of show Stillpointe excels at—odd, tongue-in-cheek, and entirely entertaining. Peeing is pivotal in Urinetown. The satirical story is set in a dismal near-future where private toilets have been outlawed by the dictator-like evil corporation UGC (Urine Good Company) to manage catastrophic water shortages after decades of drought. The situation is ripe for a revolution. Enter Public Amenity No. 9 toilet keeper Bobby Strong and his forbidden love interest, Hope Cladwell, daughter of UGC’s CEO.

It’s a weird premise, which was born in 1999 at New York City’s annual festival of weird theater, Fringe (DC’s Capital Fringe is this month, and Baltimore’s Charm City Fringe is in November—go see excellent weird theater). But, in addition to being odd, it’s also very good. Urinetown made it to Broadway for a three-year run and multiple Tony Awards.

A good show in Stillpointe’s hands has proven time and time again to be an outstanding production. Part of why Urinetown is so delightful is how it parodies traditional musical theater tropes—targeting shows like Les Miserables and West Side Story through a Brecht-style lens. The finale of Act I is very “Do You Hear the People Sing,” complete with a large waving flag. Act II spoofs the Jets vs. Sharks pre-fight “Cool.” Even if you’re not a musical theater nerd, you’ll still get that Urinetown is poking fun at big-budget Broadway smashes.

Another reason why Stillpointe’s production of Urinetown is so enjoyable is its outstanding cast and creative team. Here’s how good Stillpointe is at making magic out of less-than-ideal resources. On opening night, the stage lights stopped working after the big opening number, and instead of freaking out, artistic director Ryan Hasse matter-of-factly announced that the church is “f*!king old,” and they would get the lights back up soon. Then, Danielle Robinette—in character as the self-referential narrator Officer Lockstock—explained that sometimes in community theater, you’ve got to work with what you have, like an old church as your theater and having actors play multiple roles and their hair not making sense for every character they play. It was genius improvisation.

Even in Urinetown’s sea of exceptional talent, Robinette stands out. She commands every scene as the rule-enforcing Officer Lockstock, who is also the show’s narrator, explaining the basics of musicals to inquisitive Little Sally, played by Caitlin Rife with pitch-perfect cuteness and spunk. This duo is not only fantastic on stage, but they’re also responsible for the outstanding choreography (Rife) and hair and makeup (Robinette). Somehow Rife, along with her sister, Amanda Rife, have made the choreography funny, with slow-motion rumbles, Gospel choir clapping, and bunny-hopping.

Robinette’s hair and makeup design is very thoughtful, as is the costume design by Nicholas Staigerwald. The poor pay-to-peers have various teased and tousled hairdos and wear yellow clothing reminiscent of Depression-era garb—small floral prints, knee socks, sack dresses; while the rich wear dresses, button-ups and polos in blue hues—evoking a subtle symbolism of urine vs. clean water. The two police officers are another contrast as badass booted pin-up girls with Marilyn Monroe makeup and shiny bobbed wigs.

The cast of Urinetown at Stillpointe Theatre. Photo courtesy of Stillpointe Theatre.
The cast of Urinetown at Stillpointe Theatre. Photo courtesy of Stillpointe Theatre.

The choreography is so exceptional in part because the direction is extraordinary, too. Director Grace Anastasiadis, who helped with the choreography, makes sure there is storytelling happening on every inch of the stage. Every actor is engaged, even when they are not the focus of a scene. The audience has so much to look at and so much to entertain them because of Anastasiadis’ nuanced and active direction. While the first act clips along at a quick pace, the second act lags a little until bigger group numbers kick in about halfway through. This could be due to the oppressive heat in the old church opening weekend (which Stillpointe has tried to help alleviate with programs that double as hand fans, as well as having additional hand fans for audience members).

Adding to the show’s visual impact is Ryan Hasse’s stylish scenic design with old-timey half-circle election flags, artfully arranged trash heaps, and tattered blue sheets draped at the back of the house, enveloping the audience in this drought-affected world. Adrienne Giesezl’s lighting design washes the stage in yellow hues, and Johnny Rogers’ projections work very well over three walls of the church’s high-ceiling space. Especially interesting are the scenes where the cast graffiti words that show up in real-time on the walls, or when a piece of old brick seems to fall away to reveal stars during the romantic “Follow Your Heart.”

“Follow Your Heart” also hilariously showcases the romantic leads, Bobby Strong (Brice Guerriere) and Hope Cladwell (Sarah Burton), who have some power harmonies that make up for the audience not being able to hear a lot of the singing because all the actors perform without microphones. Guerriere is a leading man on par with slapstick heroes of parody films like “Airplane” or “Naked Gun.” His expressiveness only gets stronger throughout the show, and his joy in playing this character is infectious.

Another standout is Christopher Kabara, who plays UGC CEO Caldwell B. Cladwell as a delectably evil, bisexual Daddy Warbucks Disney villain. A highlight is when he comes into the audience to sing “Don’t Be a Bunny.” Tall, red-haired Seth Fallow pops in the ensemble as Tiny Tom with his droll one-liners and salty expressions. The entire team—leading and supporting actors, lighting, projections, choreography, direction—shine on group numbers like “Run, Freedom, Run.”

I’m sure I’m quoting a line in Urinetown, when I say of Stillpointe’s show: “When you gotta go, you gotta go” … to this fantastic production.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Urinetown: The Musical, presented by Stillpointe Theatre, plays through July 14, 2018, at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 10 E. Mount Vernon Place in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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Cassandra Miller
Cassandra Miller is a writer, editor, and publicist dedicated to amplifying the arts through her work as the president of CultuRally Communications and as a contributing writer to publications including DC Metro Theater Arts, Baltimore magazine, Bmore Art and The Washington Post. After teaching English in Italy and the Czech Republic in her early 20s, she applied her journalism degree from Boston University to a position as a daily newspaper section editor and founder and editor-in-chief of an arts and entertainment alternative weekly in her native upstate New York before moving to Baltimore five years ago. She has more than 10 years experience working in the journalism and marketing/PR fields at organizations such as Baltimore Center Stage, the Greater Baltimore Committee, Visit Baltimore and The Washington Post. She has been in love with theater since she performed as both Maria and Mother Superior in a sixth-grade summer camp production of "The Sound of Music."