YOU ARE THE RIVER IF YOU CAN “HOLD IT”
THIS FUN MUSICAL IS ALWAYS ENTERTAINING
The California drought is in full swing this fall as Clayton Theatre Company opens their 4th season with URINETOWN The musical. First produced at the NY Fringe festival 15 years ago as a one act, and then moved to off Broadway in 2001 as a full two act musical, and won three Tonys. Music by Mark Hollmann and book and lyrics by Greg Kotis, whose satirical take on a musical that spoofs so many classics - including “Three Penny Opera” and “Le Miz”. Co directed by Roxanne Pardi and La Tonya Watts, the pair opened this fun musical at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. If you have put this entertaining musical on hold, it is now time to relieve yourself and join this talented cast at UGC (Urine Good Company) public toilets. I know that is an odd invitation, but one that holds true to this river of a story that will keep you smiling and longing for the bathroom break at intermission.
The narrator and head Officer Lockstock, played by the brilliant Daniel Rubio, holds this show together even at times when it gets a bit weak. Rubio gives a commanding comic performance and he has a magnificent voice. Lockstock tells us from the get go, that the characters are aware that they are in a musical. And from then on, they perform with various levels of theatre styles, belting out big show tunes and sometimes joining in dance numbers that are times a bit clumsy. Choreographed by Watts, who is the Artistic Director of CTC, has a small space to stage this romp, so at times the cast is a bit off, at least at opening night. Yet some of the numbers are strong “It’s a Privilege to Pee”, "Follow Your Heart", and “I see a River” are impressive. The classic “Look to the Sky” skipped a beat, as we are told by the narrator “Urinetown” is a hellish place where offenders are sent, never to be heard from again, or is it a metaphor for doom. The musical takes place in an unnamed city in an unspecified time frame when the water supply is so depleted that residents must pay to pee. While the wealthy get fat off the tolls of the poor, the less fortunate clutch their groins and beg for the pennies that will gain them a session at the public toilets.
"I don't think many people are going to want to see this musical," a little girl tells officer Lockstock. That little girl who is a brassy charmer named Little Sally played by the powerhouse Jordan Ben-Shmuel. She stands in for the everyman alongside the hero of the story Bobby Strong, played by the skilled actor Burton Thomas. Bobby, a romantic socialist who plans to rebel against his urine overlords. He meets a girl named Hope, sharply played by the talented Jarusha Ariel, whose father is the despicable Caldwell Cladwell, (James Bradley Jr.) is the villain of Urinetown. As much of a devil as Caldwell is, Bradley is very likable and cute in the Cole Porter inspired “Don’t Be The Bunny”. Thomas as the young Mr. Strong is excellent during his show stopping gospel number “Run, Freedom, Run”, he is confident and has an appealing voice. It is a large cast and I don't think the directors could fit one more person on the modest black box Knight stage at the Lesher. -- but I must mention the big voice brash talent of Michelle Elaine laniro, who has perfect comic timing and gets big laughs as Penelope Pennywise, a lovable enforcer of the piss laws with a heart of gold. Alan McElroy who is Lockstocks side kick has the perfect comic “Laurel and Hardy” timing with the pace of Rubio’s standout performance.
The ensemble does a nice job with this fun score and all the variations with the tone of the show, but at times it was a bit overwhelming for some of the company. I want to pass shout outs to some of the chorus who stand out, Chelsea Bardellini, Sean Aten, and Tevin Whack. Music Director Santiago Martinez heads a three piece band that kept the show moving. Sharon Bell’s costumes are subtle and fit the Urine mood, Bobby has two looks and the Caldwell office scenes are classy color coordinated. Hope and her dad have this great color scheme, all add some elegance to the look of the corporate side of the design. The set is simple risers and basic rolling door entrances designed by Kristen Keller. The show is fun and always brings smiles no matter how many times I have seen this musical. It runs through November 15th and it is a great way to start your Holiday theatre season.
CLAYTON THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS
URINETOWN THE MUSICAL
Music by Mark Hollmann, book and lyrics by Greg Kotis
Directed by Roxanne Pardi and La Tonya Watts,
Music Director Santiago Martinez
Oct 30 - Nov 15th
Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek.
Tickets Lesher Center Box Office: (925) 943-7469