Thursday, January 18, 2018
Stage

Funny, clever 'Urinetown' provides a royal flush at Richey Suncoast

Please, please, please don't let the icky title of Urinetown, The Musical, put you off. If you do, you'll be depriving yourself of one of the funniest, cleverest, and, as done by Richey Suncoast Theatre, best-performed shows you will see in ages.

It takes satirical punches at the legal system, corporations, greedy capitalists, heartless business titans, irresponsible people who don't think of anything but themselves and their immediate needs — the heck with the future — and, of course, corrupt politicians on the take.

It won Tony Awards for best book and best score when it played Broadway from 2001 to 2004, but, unlike so many other shows, it's just gotten more relevant with every passing year.

It's set in the near future, when all the lakes and rivers have dried up from overuse, overpopulation and climate change, and flushing toilets has been declared illegal. Soon, the bushes and streets begin to smell because everyone uses them as latrines. Into this stinky mess comes the corporate mogul Caldwell B. Cladwell, played as charmingly manipulative by David Bethards, who creates Urine Good Company. He sets up public toilets, and bribes the cheerfully shifty Senator Fipp (Jeff D'Augustino) to pass laws forbidding anyone to pee (or defecate) any place but in Cladwell's toilets — and for a hefty fee. Those who don't are hauled off to the notoriously hideous Urinetown, never to be seen again.

Sounds gruesome, yes?

And it could be, except that it isn't. But only if the casting director finds the actors who can make it work, and that is exactly what director Marie Skelton did. She found the perfect actor for each part, in some cases two perfect actors for a part, in which case she lets them trade off nights performing those roles.

I saw it the night Malia Bolster played the cute, smarty-pants, wise-too-soon street urchin Little Sally, and she did it up right, cocking a skeptical eye at the show's narrator, Officer Lockstock, played with delightfully ironic snark by Mike McGuigan. What a couple of really gifted actors.

The razzle-dazzler, though, is Ryan Bintz, as Bobby Strong, leader of a Pee for Free rebellion among the unwashed masses. Bintz gets it, playing the brave hero in full "meller drammer" style, with over-the-top emotion and theatrics, followed quickly by demure glances and self-effacing modesty. Bintz belts it out in full gospel mode, in Run, Freedom, Run! then goes full bathos in Tell Her I Love Her and Follow Your Heart. He deserved every cheer and whistle he got at curtain call time.

So did the glamorous, beautiful Vicki Stinnett, who transmogrified herself into a dowdy drudge in combat boots, sagging cardigan and gosh awful hairdo to play the cruel toilet monitor Penelope Pennywise. Ms. Stinnett knows how to milk every line for all it's worth, and what a joy it is to watch her do it.

Also noteworthy are Brooke Stinnett as lovely young Hope Cladwell, Bobby's object of affection; the adorable Rachel Brown in long braids as Little Becky Two Shoes; Rickey Cheeks as the blustery, bullying Hot Blades Harry, who wants nothing more than to tie a rope around Hope's neck; and Roger Kleemichen all duded out in pink blazer and bleached hairdo as he vamps it up as Mr. Cladwell's toady.

A really terrific chorus/ensemble rounds it out, with right-on choreography by Bethards. Hand some whimsically absurd bits by Dale Collins as crotchety Old Man Strong, Justin Buyea as whiney Tiny Tom, Rich Aront as Lockstock's befuddled backup, Officer Barrel, and Courtney Burnett as almost-innocent victim, Ms. Millennium.

Special kudos to sound designer Jami Walls and sound operator Garrett Case, who placed both body and hanging microphones in perfect position to pick up every word spoken or sung by each cast member and keeping them at perfect levels throughout the entire show. This is important, because each line is worthy of hearing, as when the rebels shout they should be able "to pee whenever they like, as much as they like, for as long as they like, and with whomever they like." (Are you listening, North Carolina?) And, Officer Lockstock gives a shout out to the Rev. Thomas Malthus, the 19th century advocate for population control, as the curtain swings closed.

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