'Urinetown' is Soaked in Silly Fun at Blank Canvas Theatre


Is it juvenile? Yes. Is it Silly? Of course. And is it universal? Well, there’s nothing more all-encompassing, never mind your ethnicity or politics, than the need to pee. And while it may seem farfetched that the government would like to stop some people from peeing freely (transgender people may chuckle ruefully here), this show is a hoot.

Urinetown has been making a splash for some years, and now Blank Canvas Theatre is giving it a go on its tiny stage—and succeeds for the most part. Under the direction of Patrick Ciamacco, who also quadruples as set/lighting/sound designer, the 19-person cast conveys the problem of peeing-for-a-price with gusto.

It helps that there are strong performers taking on the major roles. The dystopian songfest is narrated with smug arrogance by Rob Albrecht as Officer Lockstock (always accompanied by Officer Barrel, played by Jason Salamon). As the man in charge of enforcing the town’s draconian law, instituted for supposed ecological reasons due to a crushing drought, the large and in charge Albrecht gives the show a strong core. He reels off efficient and meta narration as he sort of explains the need to ban private toilets to Little Sally (a wide-eyed Dayshawnda Ash):: “You’re too young to understand it now, Little Sally, but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.”

He is matched nicely by John J. Polk as Caldwell B. Cladwell, president of Urine Good Company and the guy who owns all the public toilets. And Polk is gifted with one of the most enjoyable songs in recent musicals, “Don’t Be the Bunny,” which carries a warning for those who get bulldozed by the powerful entities of big business and a government that punishes people who are poor and weak (“You’re born to power/You’re in the money…don’t be the bunny!”).

These pee police don’t go unchallenged since Bobby Strong (a forthright and upstanding Daryl Kelley) takes on the role as the leader of the forces rebelling against the law. And his romance with Hope Cladwell (an achingly naïve Stephanie Harden), the daughter of the pee magnate, registers effectively.

In the role of Penelope Pennywise, the harridan who runs an amenity in the poor part of the city, Bernadette Hisey sings well but never becomes the hateful presence she must be to give the show its gut punch. Pennywise is on the front line of the pee ban, so she needs to be a real badass. If Cladwell is the Gordon Gekko of pee, she must be the Terminator.

The ensemble offers great support—Trey Gilpin and Kristy Cruz in particular—and the small band under Matthew Dolan’s baton delivers solid accompaniment. And the music soars particularly in the up tempo “Run, Freedom, Run,” which features a harmonizing choir of singers.

The premise of this show makes no sense, of course, since people could always find a way to pee on the sly. Plus, the idea of a government stopping people from peeing makes about as much sense as giving tax breaks to the rich while raising taxes on the poor. Like that could happen.

Urinetown
Through December 16 at Blank Canvas Theatre, West 78 Street Studios, 1300 W. 78 St., 440-941-0458, blankcanvastheatre.com.

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...
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