If your taste in musicals runs to the light, bouncy and life-affirming, you might want to take a pass on the Spreckels Theatre Company’s latest production. If, however, your taste runs more to the dark and twisted, then you won’t find Urinetown: the Musical too draining. It runs through March 1.
Set in a dystopian future where decades of drought have led to the regulation and privatization of water intake and outtake, the show by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis made quite a splash on Broadway in 2011 and won three of the 10 Tony Awards for which it was nominated. It’s an odd combination of satire, parody, social drama and love story.
The show opens at Amenity #9, the “poorest, filthiest urinal in town,” where citizens line up to pay for the privilege to pee. Both failure to pay, and getting caught urinating in public, lead to banishment to Urinetown, a place from which no one has ever returned.
The Urine Good Company, headed by the dastardly Caldwell B. Cladwell (Tim Setzer), seeks another hike in their outrageous fees. This doesn’t sit well with Amenity attendant Bobby Strong (Joshua Bailey), who’s soon fomenting rebellion. Complications ensue when Bobby falls in love with Cladwell’s daughter, Hope (Julianne Thompson Bretan). Will their love be enough to break the stranglehold her father has on everyone’s bladder? Well, as Officer Lockstock (David Yen) makes clear in his introduction, this isn’t a “happy” musical.
Actually, it’s barely a musical at all. It’s more a single-themed Forbidden Broadway-type revue with each musical number reminiscent of another show. “Look at the Sky” smells of Les Misérables, “What is Urinetown?” brings Fiddler on the Roof to mind and “Run Freedom Run” has shades of Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in it. The show’s best number may be its only non-referential one—”Don’t Be the Bunny.”
Director Jay Manley has an excellent cast at work here, with toilet-tissue-paper-thin characters. Bailey and Thompson Bretan bring earnest demeanors and terrific voices to their roles. Setzer clearly relishes in Cladwell’s cartoon villainy. Yen keeps things whizzing by with his humorous exposition, often in tandem with Denise Elia-Yen’s Little Sally, and the show benefits from a strong ensemble.
Urinetown may leave a bad taste in the mouth of some, but if you’re in the mood for something decidedly different then, by all means, go.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
‘Urinetown, the Musical’ runs through March 1 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Thu, Feb. 27; 7:30pm; Fri–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm; $12–$36. 707.588.3400. spreckelsonline.com