Food, water, and shelter might be the top triumvirate of human needs, but it’s the urge to relieve oneself that requires the most immediate attention every morning, noon, and night. So when the right to pee gets privatized and priced-as is the premise of this happily wacky, intelligently humorous, and satirically self-referential musical-people get pissed, and revolution isn’t far away. But unlike idealistic, happy-ending stories in which the righteous overtake the morally bankrupt, Urinetown-named after the place where those who pee freely are sent, never to return-explores the faults of naive rebellion, too, which makes it truly thought provoking and great for the whole political spectrum.
Even great premises can’t make a musical, however, so thankfully the songs of Urinetown were solid. Taking inspiration from musicals of yesteryear-audience members could be heard uttering names like West Side Story and Grease during certain songs-the play moved in new directions, too, even breaking into hip-hop at one point during “Cop Song.” Other highlights included “Don’t Be the Bunny” (about why the villain is a predatory businessman) and “Run, Freedom, Run!,” the hero’s song about why freedom-fighting requires fleeing. (Unfortunately, the otherwise majestic Solvang Festival Theater was experiencing a few sound problems last weekend, but perhaps enhancements to the system are part of its ongoing refurbishment?)
The romantic leads played their roles perfectly well-Vanessa Ballam as Hope Caldwell, the villain’s daughter-in-distress, torn between loyalty to her father’s company and love for a rebellious boy; and Sung Min Park, who played that boy/hero Bobby Strong, who is fueled by his father’s punishment following a peeing-in-public incident. But the real show-stealers were Erik Stein as Officer Lockstock, our narrating, perfectly campy police officer whose comic timing and gut-busting stage presence kept the crowd wanting to see him at all times; the young Eleise Moore as Little Sally, a child who provided the voice of reason and morality, something that can often be the case in real life; and Billy Breed, the villain Caldwell B. Caldwell, whose demonic facial expressions and beady eyes were only enhanced by his rumbling, chilling vocals.
But the best reasons to visit Urinetown are in the script, which is full of political wit and provides a refreshing satirization on the making of musicals. At the end of Urinetown, you feel like you’ve learned more about the musical tradition and a lot more about life itself.