NEW PORT RICHEY — Drought in California. Hailstones the size of baseballs in the Midwest. Floods in Texas. Outrageous medical costs. And an election where half the candidates are climate change deniers.
What better time for Urinetown, a dark, quirky musical satire on the ugly ramifications of climate change and how greedy corporate titans move in to exploit a natural bodily function as it happens. The Tony Award-winning show debuted in 2001 — two days after 9/11 — and has become even more timely in the years since.
It's playing Thursday to May 29 at Richey Suncoast Theatre, the show's debut on the North Suncoast.
Urinetown made a big splash when it opened — gee, it's going to be difficult to avoid double entendres and puns while writing this — and ran for almost 1,000 performances before going on the road and popping up in regional and community theaters. It started with a book by Greg Kotis, who, as a student on a budget in Europe, encountered pay-per-use toilets. What if such a practice became widespread? he wondered. From there, it grew into a musical, with score by Mark Hollmann.
It's set in the future, when a long drought has made water more valuable than gold. Laws have been passed forbidding people to flush their toilets in order to save water. Then, "entrepreneurs" have convinced the government to pass laws forbidding people to urinate anywhere but in a pay-per-pee toilet.
That's when the heartless but enterprising corporate titan Caldwell B. Cladwell (David Bethards, George in The Drowsy Chaperone) forms the mega-corporation, Urine Good Company (UGC), that sets up pay-per-pee urinals across the land and posts the hard-edged Penelope Pennywise (Vicki Stinnett, title role in Chaperone) to be custodian at his nastiest, filthiest urinal, Public Amenity #9 (It's a Privilege to Pee). Those who don't pay are shipped off to Urinetown, the most vile spot in the universe, to be punished for not paying to pee.
The setup is explained by Officer Lockstock (Mike McGuigan, Aldolpho in Chaperone) and his sidekick, Officer Barrel (Rich Aront, Stanley in Caught in the Net), with help from the cynical Little Sally (Liz Onley, Mrs. Tottendale in Chaperone/Malia Bolster), who is unfazed by threats because she thinks the situation is already as bad as it can get.
But not everyone is a cruel monster or a cynic. Penelope's dashing young helper, Bobby Strong (Ryan Bintz, Robert in Chaperone), who loves Cladwell's beautiful daughter Hope (Brooke Stinnett, Nightingale in Chaperone), has been inspired by his feisty Old Man (Dale Collins, Barker in State Fair) and strong-willed mom, Josephine (Diane Ramos/Cathy Hillary) not to put up with guff. Besides, he doesn't believe there really is a Urinetown, that it's only a threat to keep people in line.
When Cladwell "persuades" the venal politician, Senator Fipp (Jeff D'Augustino, Mayor in Bye, Bye, Birdie) to raise the toilet fees, the huddled masses, led by Bobby and Hope, finally rebel in a "Pee for Free" frenzy. That's when officials and Cladwell threaten to take the rebels to Urinetown, a place reportedly so hideous that it makes the nasty urinals look downright inviting.
Much like The Drowsy Chaperone, Urinetown has a narrator, Office Lockstock, who keeps the audience in the loop of events. And, like Chaperone, it pokes fun at Broadway conventions, even as it parodies iconic songs and scenes from some of Broadway's favorites.
There is lots of casual killing — maybe the kiddies shouldn't see this one; or perhaps they should since there are lessons to be learned here — and cynicism runs rampant, right up to and including the closing credits.
Director Marie Skelton double cast several of the roles. I "had so much talent (at auditions) that I wanted to give a chance for as many as possible to shine," she said.
Thus the double casting of Little Sally, Josephine Strong and Soupy Sue (Gloria Henthorne/Lauren Piskothy). Emily Earle is assistant director, with Bethards as choreographer and Mark Anthony Jelks as music director.