News Column

Review: 'Urinetown' gets expert staging at the Jungle Theater

June 10, 2013

YellowBrix

June 10--There isn't a false step in John Command's zesty staging of "Urinetown The Musical," which opened at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis over the weekend.

Stars Bradley Greenwald, Kersten Rodau, Gary Briggle and Elisa Pluhar (who plays innocent Little Sally), deliver at the top of their talent in a Broadway-caliber production that is performed in a playhouse the size of a big living room.

Occasionally, when the entire cast is onstage doing comically charming dance numbers that quote everything from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to "Fiddler on the Roof," you wonder how 20-plus people can move so freely in that small space without collisions. But for the most part, you sit on the edge of your seat in giddy delight.

"Urinetown," conducted by Ray Berg, is a show that even people who don't know or like musical theater can love. It sends up the form.

Composed by Mark Hollmann, who co-wrote the lyrics with book-writer Greg Kotis, it premiered in 1999 at the New York fringe festival. It was later reworked and taken to Broadway.

The musical satire lampoons theater, municipal collusion and indifferent corporate domination of our lives.

"Urinetown" is set in a distant time of water shortages after what are called "the stink years." The only toilets to be used are those controlled by The Urine Good Company, which is run by heartless Caldwell B. Cladwell (Briggle). Those who cross him or violate company rules, no matter how full their bladders, risk death.

Early in the show, an example is made of rebellious Old Man Strong (JP Fitzgibbons). His son, Bobby Strong (Patrick Morgan), tries to redeem his father's will. Handsome Bobby falls for Cladwell's daughter, Hope (Tiffany Seymour), and takes her hostage, leading the people to an Occupy Urinetown moment.

From the opening number ("Urinetown)," Greenwald gives the narrator, Officer Lockstock, style and charisma. He heightens his performance with physical humor. Rodau's Penelope Pennywise, a municipal factotum, is sassy and stern, especially on "It's a Privilege to Pee." But she ultimately shows a big heart.

Briggle's Cladwell is coolly smooth.

Morgan's Strong and Seymour's Hope don't have the best chemistry, but that serves the narrative, and the production, well. After all, "Urinetown" is an unusual musical that forswears a happy ending.

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(c)2013 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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