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“What is ‘Urinetown’?” A Timely Question Hilariously answered in A.L.T and TMU Villa Players Production

Review by Christiana Molldrem Hakulich of “Urinetown”: American Legacy Theatre and TMU Villa Players

In the opening moments of “Urinetown”, Officer Lockstock and Little Sally talk about all the things that can kill a show, including a bad title (which of course, this musical has). Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis’s “Urinetown” has been proving that warning wrong since its Tony-Award-winning Broadway run in 2001.  Thomas Moore University Villa Players and American Legacy Theatre’s co-production continues that tradition with their funny and bold performance at the Benedictine Library Theatre on Thomas Moore’s campus. The signage isn’t great for finding the theatre on-campus, but it’s well worth the hunt.

At its heart “Urinetown: The Musical” is a fable of what happens when capitalism and resources run their course and the water table erodes. In this set of circumstances, how will people pee? It’s written in a Brechtian style, often pausing the action to comment on it. It is very metatheatrical, which is the basis of many of the jokes. Hollman and Kotis initially got the idea for the show while travelling around Europe in the 1990s and needing to pay a fee to use the public toilets in train stations. As climate change is continually in the news, the warnings of “Urinetown”, however comic, make the musical even more timely.

Greg Procaccino does an excellent job staging this musical on the deep thrust stage; the audience on every side has a good view of the action. Much acclaim should also be given to Sam Devlin, who is listed as the Technical Director, but was also the designer of the space. The brilliant transitions that Devlin and Procaccino worked out added to the laughter, and were some of my favorite parts of the show.

There is a strong talent pool at Thomas Moore University for this production with lots of strong voices that are well-suited to this production. Only about half of the students on stage are theatre majors. Of particular note are Little Sally (Elizabeth Butler), Penelope Pennywise (Lena Bauer), and Officers Lockstock (Joseph Waterbury-Tieman) and Barrel (Jordan Zulli). Lockstock and Barrel play well against each other and leaned in to jokes, including an especially funny bit involving a shovel. Butler’s Little Sally is brassy and insightful, and she serves the play well as the audience’s guide into the action. Bauer’s Pennywise is gruff and her belt is strong. The lovers, Bobby Strong (Nick Godfrey) and Hope Cladwell (Natalie Beaulieu) carry their roles well, although they both miss some of the jokes in the script. Kiernan Casey’s villainous Caldwell B. Cladwell could be a bit more sinister, but ultimately hits the mark.

The Ensemble particularly shines in this production. The choreography of Kate Altieri, and student choreographers Alesha Miller and Katherine Walton, is fun and thoughtful, especially in the second act opening number “Snuff That Girl”. I also enjoyed that because of the staging, the ensemble was often commenting and responding the action directly to the audience. “Urinetown” is a thoughtful and very engaging musical. Co-produced by Charmin, it runs for one more weekend at Thomas Moore University and is well worth the trip! Tickets can be purchased here https://www.americanlegacytheatre.org/on-stage