Capital Pee

When potty breaks are outlawed, you're in Urinetown.

Urinetown, the Musical Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood Through October 9, 216-521-2540
What sort of thought process is required to see a regional disaster and immediately begin computing the dollars that can be wrenched from the public coffers? In the gulf states, Halliburton and other corporate profiteers of various stripes are leaning on legislators to get their hands on the $200 billion that will be spent in the rebuilding effort. Of course, left behind will be the thousands of evacuees who have now been dispatched to other states, some clutching debit cards worth a couple hundred bucks per person.

The community devastation in Urinetown, the Musical is an apt echo of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, as it posits a fictional city in the grip of a multiyear drought so extreme, the government has privatized bathrooms to preserve water. In other words, you gotta pay to pee. This hilarious, satirical sendup of money-grubbing evil -- with music by Mark Hollman, book by Greg Kotis, and lyrics by both -- won three Tonys in 2002, along with the hearts of anyone who enjoys a musical that never takes itself seriously. Narrator and lead cop Officer Lockstock, played with scenery-gnashing gusto by Matthew Wright, continually reminds the audience that this is a musical, lamenting the need for excessive exposition to get the proceedings started.

The hero of the piece is Bobby Strong, a public-amenity attendant who sympathizes with the cross-legged, squirming denizens of the town and rebels against the corruption of the urinal-and-toilet monopoly, UGC (Urine Good Co.) and its malevolent CEO, Caldwell B. Cladwell. Bobby falls for Cladwell's beautiful daughter, Hope (Maggie Stahl), who's working as a fax/copy girl at UGC's gleaming headquarters. But Bobby runs afoul of the police and is sent to Urinetown, the mysterious place where pee and poop felons go and never return. As the bizarro-world/Little-Orphan-Annie-character Little Sally says, "This isn't a happy musical." Not happy, but funny as hell.

Director Scott Spence has crafted a production as tight as a clenched urethra, every scene clicking with admirable precision. Standouts in the cast include Lenne Jacobs-Snively as the rubber-gloved lavatory dominatrix Penelope Pennywise, whose rendition of "(It's a) Privilege to Pee" salutes the cockeyed logic of unbridled privatization, and Betsy Kahl as truth-telling Little Sally ("This is a terrible name for a musical"). And if there were an award for the best performance by a chorus, the poor folk in this production would be leading candidates. The town peons perform flawlessly, whether they're dancing the full-bladder jig or singing the comically uplifting "Run, Freedom, Run!" They are Sandra Emerick, Dan Bush, Eric Neumore, Ryan Bergeron, Joanna May Hunkins, Zac Hudak, and Kim Bush.

Gregory Violand is in fine, rich voice as Cladwell, but he doesn't fully release his inner Cheney as the caliph of capitalist evil. And as Bobby Strong, Colin James Cook, with his slumped posture and diffident mien, adopts a demeanor that runs counter to his character's cartoonishly noble purpose. Still, urine for a treat with this show.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
Scroll to read more Arts Stories & Interviews articles
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.