Through Sun 9/25
In the wake of a catastrophic drought, mega-corporation Urine Good Company has passed laws forbidding private restrooms and requiring payment for the usage of public ones to conserve water. Those who do not pay for “The Privilege to Pee” are sent to a mysteriously ominous place known only as Urinetown. For twenty years, the poor have been oppressed by ridiculous prices, until one day a young public amenity attendant leads an uprising of the poor against the tyranny of their oppressors.
Inspired by the works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, Urinetown is an irreverently humorous satire in which no one is safe from scrutiny. Praised for reinvigorating the very notion of what a musical could be, Urinetown is a show brimming with wickedly modern wit, and a sustained ability to produce waves of unbridled laughter.
The production at Near West Theatre provides the entertainment that would make the original creators proud. Under the adept direction of Kelcie Nicole Dugger, this cast of 9 to 15-year-old performers take on the material with fierce talent and beautiful execution. The last production at Near West Theatre was the acclaimed young adult show Assassins, which featured a cast ages 16 to 25. What is amazing about this production of Urinetown is that the same level of astute performances are delivered by this raucous, rambunctious, and vocally powerful company of 9 to 15 year old performers with outstanding talent. As intense and politically disturbing dark comedy as Assassins was, Urinetown offers the same in a comedic quirky manner. Also after viewing this masterful youth production, you could easily rename it as “Money Notes, the Musical.”
At Near West Theatre, the mission is to combine veterans, occasional dabblers and individuals who have never been on stage before. Combining these elements, a cathartic and revolutionary process takes place, allowing each facet of experience to come together, blend and mold each member with empowerment. The result is magical. Watching someone who is a first-timer experience the joy of performing and hearing the applause of a curtain call for the first time in their life is the lifeblood of this theater. In some instances, it may be the first time someone has cheered them on, and they are literally standing and clapping saying “You did great! Thank you!” The mission is life-changing for many.
Leading this brigade of talent is the incredible Dylan Grosh-Hoy as Officer Lockstock. Grosh-Hoy is a quadruple threat of fierceness. He moves with precise ease, he acts with unabandoned brilliance, his voice is killer, and his comedic timing is perfect. His future is brighter than the northern lights, and leads this production with a professional flare.
One of his cohorts is Sophie O’Leary as Little Sally. There is nothing little about this young lady. With adult talent, she almost steals the show with her sharp delivery, a set of pipes that doesn’t quit, and diction that makes everything she says a delight. She is a scream and is an able comedic warrior on stage.
As Bobby Strong, Cole Tarantowski brings his boyish charm to the role of the crusader. He continues to grow in voice and stature on stage. With a voice that can belt with the best of them, he provides a vulnerable character that is at the heart of the show. The heart that imbues Strong is affirmed by Hope Cladwell, played exquisitely by Zoe Douglas. Douglas is beautiful in voice, look and character. Her characterization is spot-on and comedically confident, and she delivers melodic pearls of powerful fantasticism.
Nate Jorgensen is a fabulous hot mess as Caldwell B. Cladwell. He creates a bullish and ridiculously fun characterization. He is over the top, a delicious mess of ego, and has the money note power as well.
One of my favorite performers in the show is Delia Brennan, who portrays Penny Pennywise. I am convinced she is the love child of Patty Lupone and Maria Callas, belting out a high G like it’s a morning yawn. Her character is brought to life being tough, rough, and acting with entertaining precision.
Josh Davis as Officer Barrel is a perfect partner to Lockstock. His character is lovable and fun, in a Soupy Sales kind of way. The partnership between Davis and Grosh-Hoy is comedic heaven. Davis is brilliant as playing second fiddle, while remaining equal. And when he takes a chance on love, the result is one of the funniest in the show, thanks to the delivery and set up by Davis, and slam dunked by Grosh-Hoy.
Speaking of over the top, Felix Albino as Hot Blades Harry and Ally Yellets as Little Becky Two Shoes are a delight. Both are edgy and a bundle of West Side Story meets the sewer inhabitants of Paris in Les Miz. Albino is great at showing his dark side, while not abandoning the comedic value. Yellets is also one of my favorite characters in the production. She is a prime example that no part is too small to shine like a pro. Her comedic chops are in full display as she uses her baby bump as a tool of mass hysteria. Her facial expressions look like she has been sniffing methane gas as a hobby. They both kill it in “Snuff That Girl.”
The strong supporting roles continue with CJ Jorgensen as Mr. McQueen, Kierstan Conway as Josephine “Ma” Strong and Ian Stewart as Senator Fipp. Jorgensen works the over-the-top extravagance to the teeth, while Conway and Stewart create great character and have powerful voices themselves. The rest of the crew just add to the party: Drew Gibson as Tiny Tom, Tannayia Thomas as Soupy Sue, Rylie Elswick as Old Man Strong/Doctor Billeaux, and the multi-talented Morgan Williams as Ms. Millenium. No performance is left underdeveloped with this supporting crew.
As many patrons have come to know, the production values at Near West Theatre are top-notch. Now performing in their new $7.3 million building, the quality that existed in the old space on the third floor of St. Patrick’s Church in Ohio City is now on a grander display in the Gordon Square Arts District.
The first indication is the dynamic set design by Cameron Caley Michalak. The audience’s first impression is a cool-looking space that features an intricate turntable and suspended platform that is visually stunning. Adding to the creation of the impressive virtual diorama is the work of scenic artist Jenny Hitmar Shankland. She is one of the best theatrical artists in the city, assisted by scenic artist Justine Schneider, who adds her own professional touch.
Lighting designer Michael Stein provides a diabolical ambience to the proceedings, with visual accents to highlight the bizarre world we encounter. Stein also serves as production manager, while Ryan Wolf is assistant production manager. Sound designer Josh Caraballo creates clear communication from the actors to the house and adds some fun sound effects along the way, sharply executed by Matt Torok. Costume designer Jen Ryan provides a beautifully balanced and trashed look on the stage. Ryan is incredibly talented in tackling large casts and provided costumes that greatly enhance the play, and add a essential professional quality.
Calling the show and providing guidance is stage manager Kate Atherton, who is on top and in control of this moving target and provides terrific guidance. Assistant stage manager Bethy Jarus completes the backstage craziness. Stage managers are often the unsung heroes of a production, and this reviewer tries to make sure they are recognized for the tremendous job they provide. Pulling all the stage elements together are technical director Josh Padgett and assistant tech Director Perren Hedderson. These two are tremendous assets, and are treasured for their deft skills. Prop Master Rachel Paul’s hard work pays off as well.
Assisting director Dugger on this pee train are some top of the line collaborators. Choreographer Joshua Landis provides fabulous movement and dance and original choreography. It’s not ripped off from a video of a professional touring company, but fully fleshed-out movement that fits the young company and empowers them to push themselves to greater execution, combining a range of young veterans and first time performers and making them fly. Providing equal professional contributions are musical directors Rachel Woods & Scott Pyle, directing a top-notch orchestra. Both of these artists are class acts with patience, technique and inspiration to move and inspire the cast to vocally soar.
Kelcie Nicole Dugger has pulled together a fabulous production. Her vision has created and inspired wonderful work from her collaborators, and well as the cast and crew. Bravo.
4 out of 5 Mufasas.
$8-$10 General Admission
Call 216-961-6391 or go to boxoffice/nearwest.