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Review: Urinetown flushed with big laughs

Tricia Perau, top, Chase Gilbertson, left, Jazmin Martin, Robbin Gust, Caleb Conway, Jacob Quade and Hailey Kowalchyk deliver a scene in the second act. Conway portrayed Bobby Strong, the young hero of "Urinetown." Photo by A.D. Drumm1 / 3
Phoenix Theatre veteran Helene Olson-Reed served as Officer Lockstock and as a comedic narrator to the audience. Photo by A.D. Drumm 2 / 3
An ensemble scene during Act Two. Photo by A.D. Drumm 3 / 3

Don't let the name scare you. "Urinetown, the Musical" is a must see.

The Phoenix Theatre opened its production of the show Friday, June 21 on the Sheldon Theatre stage. From the curtain's first rise, it becomes clear that "Urinetown" does not fit the conventional musical mold.

In a perfectly cast lead role, Helene Olson-Reed welcomes the audience as the narrator and brute and bold police captain Officer Lockstock. Olson-Reed is wildly entertaining to watch on stage, in the aisles, in the balcony and wherever else she may pop up throughout the production. With help from idealistic poor girl Little Sally, played by Hannah Kowalchyk, the audience is clued into the unfolding plot of the musical.

Set in the near-distant future, a long drought and crippling water shortage have made life difficult for poorer residents. Under the government's order, public bathrooms are owned and operated by the behemoth Urine Good Company and its villainous leader, Caldwell B. Cladwell, played by Cory Koplin. If the strict laws prohibiting free urination are not obeyed, the perpetrators will be sent to the feared and unexplainable Urinetown.

At one of many controlled public amenity stations, Penelope Pennywise (Tricia Perau) tries to keep order while collecting fees from people to use the bathroom. Perau dominated the stage as she sang "A Privilege to Pee," one of the show's earliest musical numbers that sets the direction of the rest of the production.

Working under Pennywise is the young Bobby Strong, played by Caleb Conway. Strong becomes the brave hero, fighting with everything he has against the rich Cladwell to gain the freedom to pee for all. Conway, one of several cast members from Ellsworth, wowed the audience with his high-powered tenor voice.

As tensions rise between the rich and the poor, Cladwell's daughter Hope enters, back home after completing college, to work for her father's company. When Hope, beautifully played by Brittany Westerberg, and Bobby Strong meet, the star-crossed lovers story begins. Westerberg and Conway share the stage in some of the show's most melodic moments, displaying impassioned harmonies.

The Sheldon itself, and the audience at times, become characters in the show, mostly in part to Olson-Reed's narrative addresses to show-goers.

The laughs in the show come from all around the cast and at a face past. The satirical writing of the show is accentuated with effective lighting, set designs and a genre-bending pit orchestra. The four musicians, Cheryl Hemphill, Grayson Wilson-Cacciapalle, Jeremy Guse and Rob Schmidtke, are seated just behind the set and add great variety to the production.

Throughout the production, the entire cast shined. Vocals were strong across the board, and choreography was tight and entertaining. At the opening night performance, a standing ovation was nearly instantaneous for the cast and crew.

Urinetown is a refreshingly fun trip to the theater. The modern musical takes on greed, oppression and resistance with great music and clever lyrics. While the power struggle keeps audiences laughing, it also lends cause to greater thinking. From top to bottom, and with plenty of toilet humor to boot, the Phoenix Theatre's "Urinetown" is the total package.

Catch the remaining shows Thursday-Sunday this week at the Sheldon Theatre.

If you go ...

Who: Phoenix Theatre

What: "Urinetown"

When: 7 p.m. Thursday July 27; 7:30 p.m. July 28-29 and 3 p.m. July 30

Where: Sheldon Theatre, 443 W. Third St.

How much: $15-20 adults; $10 students

More info: www.sheldontheatre.org, 651-388-8700

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