Blank Canvas Theatre’s ‘Urinetown’ flush with talent, determination
By Bob Abelman
“Urinetown” at Blank Canvas Theatre, is not your father’s musical. That is, unless your father likes his theater marvelously askew, wonderfully irreverent and with a terrible title.
Written by Greg Kotis and composed by Mark Hollman, “Urinetown” is about corporate greed, political corruption and social revolution – you know, typical musical comedy fare – and makes fun of the very theatrical conventions it so cleverly employs.
After an apocalyptic drought in the very near future, water is scarce, federally regulated, and controlled by the Urine Good Company and its greedy CEO Caldwell B. Cladwell (John J. Polk). Relieving oneself for free is a crime punishable by death. Everyone must count their pennies, wait in line at the public facility, and take care of business in an orderly and corporately-controlled fashion or else.
A young everyman, Bobby Strong (Daryl Kelley), starts a revolt, falls in love with and holds hostage the CEO’s wide-eyed and innocent daughter, Hope (Stephanie Harden), and leads his band of nitrogren-crazed and impoverished revolutionaries toward a most unhappy ending.
The story is narrated by omnipresent police officer Lockstock (Rob Albrecht), who adds a thick layer of caustic humor to the social commentary. Along with Little Sally (Dayshawnda Ash), the two make sure to remind the audience that this is only a musical. And an odd one at that.
Odd and brilliantly performed, for everyone on and behind the stage understands and appreciates the show’s acerbic wit and theater-insider references. They deliver the goods straight-faced and with the perfect level of earnest intent required of good satire.
The featured performers, particularly Kelley, Harden and Bernadette Hisey as Penelope Pennywise – who runs the poorest, filthiest public toilet in town – bring to the table astonishing voices. And Albrecht and Polk were born to play the roles of Lockstock and Cladwell, respectively.
But it’s the ensemble members who carry this production. They are given the funniest lines in the show, are called upon to deliver wonderful harmonies and Katie Zarecki’s energetic and close-quarter choreography in production numbers like “Look at the Sky,” “Run, Freedom Run,” and “Why Did I Listen to That Man,” and stop the show with the incredible “Snuff That Girl,” led by the hilarious Trey Gilpin and Kristy Cruz.
Director Patrick Ciamacco spreads himself thin by also serving as lighting, sound and set designer. But he only comes up short in the lighting department – where everything is late, off-center and uncomplimentary – and manages to find every humorous beat in the script and the cast to play them. He also gives players like Kevin Kelly, as Caldwell confidant Mr. McQueen, the freedom to add subtle pieces of business that are comedic genius.
Thin also describes the music, what with only five musicians to deliver the show’s score. But the band, under Matthew Dolan’s direction, certainly do the most with what they have.
As hilarious as this show is, its underlining theme of self-induced, environmentally-based catastrophe is a nightmare. In fact, the show’s final line pays homage to Thomas Malthus, an 18th century economist who theorized that the world population would grow beyond the earth’s ability to support it.
“Urinetown” is a disturbing story wrapped in an escapist, candy-coated shell. And it is performed to perfection by the good folks at Blank Canvas Theatre.
WHERE: Blank Canvas Theatre, 1305 W. 78th St., Cleveland
WHEN: Through Dec. 16
TICKETS & INFO: $18, call 440-941-0458 or visit blankcanvastheatre.com
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3. 2017 AP Ohio Media Editors best columnist.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on December 3, 2017.
Lead image: Joseph Mian as Yank. Photo / Celeste Cosentino