Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Clever musical a 'Dear john'

letter to Broadway convention

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. Dry Cold Productions

. 8 p.m. today; 2 p.m. tomorrow

. Tickets $30, $15

.... out of five

It might relieve you to know that Urinetown is not a steady stream of pee jokes and toilet humour.

Far from being an extended bathroom joke, the musical exhibits knowing foolishness in how it deftly satirizes corporate greed and consumerism.

Urinetown, being given an easy-to-like professional premiere by Winnipeg's Dry Cold Productions, is more about shameless cheek than bloated bladders. Most of the fun -- and there's lots to go around in this giddy 130-minute Tony winner -- comes from not taking itself seriously and deriding musical theatre and Broadway banality.

The American creative team of Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis depict a dystopian future where an unnamed city has endured a 20-year drought that has forced private toilets to be banned. UGC (Urine Good Company) controls the public rest rooms, charging ever-higher fees for their use. Anyone caught urinating in public is exiled to Urinetown, a sinister place from which no one has ever returned.

After his dad is dragged away for relieving himself outside, Bobby Strong, the custodian of the filthiest public amenity in town, ignites a grassroots rebellion against UGC and its evil CEO, Mr. Cladwell. But Bobby's campaign is compromised when he falls for Caldwell's dewy daughter, Hope.

From the moment the lights go up on Brian Perchaluk's grungy set at the Canwest Performing Arts Centre, Urinetown goes out of its way to defuse any earnestness with self-mockery. A police officer named Lockstock immediately greets the audience and, often joined by the teddy bear-toting waif Little Sally, reminds us it's just a silly musical and we're suckers if we fall victim to its manipulative charms.

Brenda Gorlick's cute choreography pays tribute to Urinetown's musical targets by parodying Les Miserables, West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof. The Act 1 finale, called Act One Finale, is a hilarious send-up of the marching French rebels, except the revolutionary flag is replaced with a crutch attached to a streaming length of toilet paper.

Director Ann Hodges finds the subversive heart of this improbable entertainment with the help of a strong local cast headed by Carson Nattrass, reprising his award-winning performance of Bobby Strong. He projects goodness and decency while singing the hell out of Run, Freedom, Run. Laura Olafson's naive Hope offers a delightfully grating duet with Nattrass and then pulls a Patty Hearst after she is taken hostage by the free pee resistance.

Newcomer Lisa Durupt is a pleasant surprise as the ragamuffin philosopher Little Sally, while Kevin Klassen's friendly manner makes his Officer Lockstock a deceptively amiable narrator. Steve Ratzlaff's Cladwell could be nastier, but he does a nice job delivering the show's goofy anthem to heartless corporate Darwinism, Don't Be the Bunny. Sharon Bajer's tough-talking Miss Pennywise delivers a spirited It's a Privilege to Pee.

With Urinetown's regrettably brief run, if you want to see it, you gotta go.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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