‘Urinetown: The Musical’ at Long Beach Playhouse: climate change has never been so funny
If we see our current drought to its logical conclusion, it might look something like the scenario in “Urinetown,” continuing at the Long Beach Playhouse (LBP) through Nov. 19. In this quirky musical, everyone has to pay to pee because there’s not enough water to sustain personal toilets. Thanks to an energetic and musically talented cast, plus great choreography, climate change, though still sad, has never been so enjoyable.
Written by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis more than 20 years ago, “Urinetown,” winner of three Tony Awards, is perhaps even more prescient now. LBP’s production features a triple threat of excellent stage direction by Rovin Jay, creative choreography by assistant director Sonya Randall and live music directed by Stephen Olear. And each of the well-cast ensemble of more than a dozen performers executes their role gamely.
Derek Rubiano as Officer Lockstock—who arrests anyone peeing in the bushes—is our narrator, seeming to enjoy his smug role and delivering his lines with panache. He relates that anyone arrested by himself or Officer Barrel (Gary Douglas) is sent to a mysterious place called “Urinetown”—and never seen again.
Little Sally (Via May), a sweet young girl, questions whether Urinetown isn’t actually “here” metaphysically. Hmm. Meanwhile, Bobby Strong (Zachary Balagot) struggles over demanding ever more coins from people desperate to pee—including his own parents—in contrast to his more gung-ho UGC (Urine Good Company) work partner Penelope Pennywise (a dryly hysterical Amanda Webb).
At the same time, charming Hope Cladwell (Fadeke Oparinde) has graduated from a very expensive university and returned home to work as a fax/copy assistant for her father Caldwell B. Cladwell (Eric Schiffer), the flamboyantly rich head of UGC.
It isn’t long before Bobby revolts and ends up leading a gang of ordinary people who become bloodthirsty revolutionists when given the chance. They kidnap Hope, though she and Bobby have fallen in love, threatening to kill her unless the UGC corporation abolishes it’s pay-to-pee policy.
Is that the answer to climate change? No. In fact, it threatens to make drought conditions worse. But the musical does satirically call out greedy capitalists who seek to profit off its effects, and the legislators lining their deep pockets with corporate payouts.
That dose of derision is conveyed with such a heaping spoonful of sugar—in the form of clever physical comedy, enjoyable musical numbers and fun choreography—that one barely notices the medicine go down.
Characters flee and fall in slow motion, dance delightfully and sing melodiously in a range of genres. Balagot as Bobby carries perhaps the heaviest musical load incredibly well, sustaining his tenor through both softer and more boisterous songs, including gospel.
Faith, after all, is what we’re counting on to get through our own extended drought, just like these poor, strange folk who are actually not that different from us, dressed in their Depression Era clothes (designed by Christina Bayer) evoking hardship.
The actors nimbly perform against a brick background designed by David Scaglione—with atmospheric lighting by Szu-Yun Wang and sound design by Jessica Dellrae Rivera—giving the play a “Sweeney Todd” feel with some “Les Misérables,” “West Side Story” and even “Evita” (among others) playfully thrown in.
Though “Urinetown” doesn’t answer what to do when our potable water runs out, it is the funniest warning you’ll ever experience of what might happen when that time comes. Run don’t walk to see a talented, invested cast perform this provocatively entertaining production—but stop at the restroom first.
“Urinetown: The Musical” continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., through Nov. 19, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $14 to $24. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 494-1014 or visit LBPlayhouse.org. Run time is two hours and 20 minutes, including intermission. Mask are required.