I would bet when Mark Hollman first conceived his sardonic little musical, Urinetown, he never banked on the fact that nearly 20 years after the show premiered, the U.S. would be facing toilet paper shortages and rations on disinfecting wipes. And that is perhaps just one of the reasons this show feels like some sick paradox now.
But the campy cast in the Gilbert Theater production countervails the horrors of Urinetown’s plot with such exaggerated zeal, that it is easy to acquiesce.
The premise of the show is that a terrible water shortage has led to government sanctions on peeing. In this Gomorrah, residents can use public restrooms for a fee or be taken to an underworld known as Urinetown.
In this type of piece, laden with innuendo and potty humor, things could go down the drain, so to speak, quickly. Timing is everything, which this ensemble, under the direction of Robyne Parrish, executes swimmingly.
The show is led by Tim Zimmerman who plays Bobby Strong, an everyman turned rebel with a cause. His charm, charisma, and ability to connect with the audience, and emit just enough earnestness to make even the ridiculous plausible, is spot-on perfect.
To Zimmerman’s David is Bill Saunders’ Goliath, also known as Caldwell B. Cladwell, the crooked tycoon behind the Urine Good Company. Saunders devours this role with a gravelly gravitas that is a cross between Yosemite Sam and Uncle Sam. It is buffoonery at its finest.
Notable too is newcomer Jennifer Newman as Penelope Pennywise, the keeper of the public bathroom key. Between her controlled belt and commanding stage presence, she is one to watch for sure.
But the real strength of this show rests in the hands of its talented, cohesive ensemble and music director, Katherine Anderson. Anderson’s wizardry makes the big musical numbers look and sound BIG. These are the harmonious sounds of a chorus, sans mics or virtual audio mixes, that musical theater fans like me have been aching for since COVID shut down theaters.
And that is why, even if Urinetown’s subject matter does not sound appealing, that you should still purchase a ticket and support this company, along with all the others which have openings this weekend. For it is these in-person shows that are breathing life into the area once again and resuscitating an entire community of artists who have been waiting in the wings to perform in front of a live audience for way too long. And it is that resiliency and enthusiasm for the work that is ever so palpable here that is deserving of accolades.
Urinetown runs through Sunday at the Gilbert Theater in Fayetteville. For ticket information visit https://www.gilberttheater.com/.