Studio 58's Urinetown makes a splash with strong singing and comic timing

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      Book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. Music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann. Directed by Courtenay Dobbie. A Studio 58 production. At Studio 58 on Saturday, February 1. Continues until February 16

      In Urinetown, public-urinal authoritarian Penelope Pennywise proclaims “It’s a privilege to pee.” And Studio 58’s production of the Tony Award–winning show, under the direction of Courtenay Dobbie, is a privilege to watch. Performed by Langara College’s acting students, this impressive production rivals any professional version out there. The show features well-timed comedy, polished singing and movement, and an energetic spark that drives the performance.

      The story is set in a grim, dystopian society where a 20-year drought has put an end to private toilet facilities. Instead, people must pay to use public amenities. Anyone caught breaking the rules is sent to Urinetown, a mysterious place that no one ever returns from. And while much of the population suffers in poverty, Caldwell Cladwell, CEO of the corporation that owns the public amenities, literally flaunts his dollar bills in front of everyone. When Cladwell decides to raise the fee for public-amenity usage, it prompts a major social uprising.

      Despite the dark subject matter, Urinetown is full of tongue-in-cheek humour that lovingly pokes fun at Broadway musical theatre. Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’s music is a mashup of styles that evokes shades of Les Misérables, West Side Story, and Fiddler on the Roof.

      Julie Tomaino’s choreography both embellishes the parodic fun and pays homage to iconic Broadway numbers. For example, with its intense finger-snapping and eventual explosion of energy, “Snuff That Girl” tips its hat to Jerome Robbins’s “Cool” choreography from West Side Story. Various other choreographic moments, such as the Charleston-like “We’re Not Sorry”, and the gospel-inspired “Run, Freedom, Run!” and “I See a River”—in which a fan is used as a wind machine—also add hugely to the fun.

      Under the musical direction of Diane Speirs, the show’s score sounds fantastic, played by a skilled five-person band. And there are some strong singing voices among the cast, which come through loud and clear without microphones.

      As the show’s hero and heroine—Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell—Caleb Dyks and Emma Ross bring sweet innocence to their characters. Dyks also has a nice belt in his singing, especially apparent in “Look at the Sky”. As Penelope Pennywise, Ivy Charles is a blast to watch—her sharp comic timing and quirked-out mannerisms are topnotch. Playing narrators Officer Lockstock and Little Sally, Liam Stewart-Kanigan and Emily Case are a delightful team. Stewart-Kanigan comes across as a charming, gentle giant, always questioned by the inquisitive Case.

      With his split leaps, high kicks, and endless energy, Vuk Prodanovic is sensational as Tiny Tom. And Irene Almanza Menes is hilarious as the ruthless—and very pregnant—revolutionary Little Becky Two-Shoes.

      The cast clearly has a ball with all this, and along with the creative team, puts in an excellent effort here. In other words, this is a Urinetown with extra splash—and a must-see, considering you don’t get the chance to see it staged very often.

      A standout cast in Urinetown.
      Emily Cooper