MURRAY CITY — The show Urinetown has been on my list of must see musicals for quite some time ever since a few years ago, when my choir teacher told me what a unique and incredibly funny show it was. He saw it at Hale Centre Theatre Orem and raved about the unconventional plot line, quirky characters, and downright catchy songs. Even though I didn’t take his persistent advice at the time, I have always had this itching desire to see this show. After seeing Murray Art’s delightful production of the show, I wish that I had taken his advice and seen Urinetown a long time ago.
Although the odd sounding name may put off some theatre goers, don’t let it fool you. Murray Art’s production of Urinetown is a wonderful piece of theatre that will make you laugh and giggle. With community actors who pour their hearts into each character, no element of the show felt weak or unrehearsed. If fact, I kept expecting some kind of slip up during the show, as is quite typical for any community production, but was beyond pleased with the talented cast and production team.
Now to get at the crux of what this show is about: pee, as you probably guessed from the title. But despite the obvious main subject matter, the show is about much more than that. The creators of the show, the successful duo Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics), were able to weave together a story in which both light-hearted content contrasts nicely with heavy topics such as capitalism, environmental protection, and populism.
The basic premise of the show is about a town that has suffered from a 20-year drought. As a result, there are no private toilets and everyone is forced to pay a fee to use the public bathrooms managed and regulated by a corporation, the Urine Good Company. Bobby Strong, a custodian at one of the poorest public toilet amenities in town, has had enough of this scrimping and scrounging for money every time you have to pee. So he ignites a rebellion and drags in Hope Cladwell, his love and the daughter of the CEO of the Urine Good Company, to join his crusade. In the end, things turn out rather differently than expected.
I enjoyed the comedic relief provided by almost every cast member during many moments of the show. However, the standout performance came from Adam Wilkins (Officer Lockstock, who also narrates the show), who really knocked the show out of the park. His quick and witty delivery of almost every line left me waiting to see what funny quip he would say next. Director Jim E. Smith knows how to direct an ensemble show. Almost every actor in the ensemble had a clear character with goals and objectives. They played off each other while still lending the lead actors the support they required. Lead actress Karllen Johnson (Hope Cladwell), perfectly portrayed Hope, the naïve girl who believes there is good in everyone. Johnson portrayed well Hope’s ditzy and overly optimistic character, never seeming to dip or fade as the show progressed. This was especially evident in her interactions with her father, Cladwell B. Cladwell. While he was always more concerned about the harsh realities of life, she seemed to thrive by the positive motto “follow your heart.”
A highlight of the show for me was the solid and well rehearsed choreography. While some would argue that the use of simple jazz hands and kick lines was overabundant in the show, I was happy that choreographer Kenny Nakashima kept the majority of the movements simple and clean. Everything was well-executed with tightness and precision—especially in the piece “Mr. Cladwell,” in which every movement from the cast was precise and purposeful, yet full of strength and energy. The choreography allowed the other elements of the song to equally shine through, rather than watch a cast struggle with overly complex movements and gestures. Simple is always better, especially with community theatre, and Murray Art’s Urinetown is proof of that.
Whether it was solid choreography, in-tune vocals, or perfectly placed set pieces, almost everything about Murray Art’s production of Urinetown was consistently good. The quirky characters; the over-the-top, melodramatic songs; and the nuggets of musical theatre parody (like Les Miserables, Fiddler On The Roof, and Big River) make a show that has something for everyone. Just don’t forget to bring your pennies in case you have to pee during the show!