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Review: Urinetown Makes a Splash!

The terrific musical with the terrible title brilliantly kicks off Nashville Rep's 35th season.

Nashville Repertory Theatre presents:
Urinetown the Musical (Sept. 12 – 29; Ages 14+)
TPAC's Johnson Theater
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
615-782-4040 | nashvillerep.org
Showtimes: Thu – Fri 7:30 p.m., Sat 2:30 & 7:30 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25 – $60

If you're long overdue for a couple hours of hearty laughter, make your way to Nashville Rep's 35th season opener, Urinetown the Musical. I wasn't sure what to expect from a show with such an unappealing title. I mean, a musical about pee? Come to find out, it's a hilarious satirical comedy that's brilliantly written by Greg Kotis (book and lyrics) and Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics). While peeing is the show's basic setting, it pokes fun at government corruption, corporate greed, the legal system and municipal politics while making a bold statement about economic inequality. It also splendidly parodies other musicals (and Broadway in general) — savvy theater audiences will recognize the nods to The Threepenny Opera, Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story.

In short order, the show's plot revolves around a dystopian future where a 20-year drought has caused a horrific water shortage making private toilets a thing of the past. The regulation of toilets is a reality, and citizens must pay for the privilege to pee using public facilities — it's illegal to go behind the bushes, too. The Urinetown tale centers on Public Amenity #9, the poorest, filthiest urinal in town. Many of the townspeople can't afford the fee to pee, and those who break the law are arrested and sent away to the mysterious penal colony called Urinetown. Soon a pee-for-free rebellion arises, and with it comes unparalleled comedy.

It's super funny material, and it's not surprising that Urinetown won three Tony Awards in 2002 (Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Direction of a Musical; the show was nominated in 10 categories). It's definitely fringe theater that not too many regional theaters mount, and I love that Nashville Rep gave us something unique and progressive for its season opener.

Jason Tucker's expert direction is undeniable in this show where the characters routinely break the fourth wall, often embracing the ridiculousness of it all. He knows how to work that extremely well with his cast. Tucker assembled the best of Nashville's professional acting pool for this production, including beloved talent like Chip Arnold (Caldwell B. Cladwell), Megan Murphy Chambers (Penelope Pennywise), Jacob York (Officer Lockstock), Samuel Whited (Officer Barrel), Galen Crawley (Little Sally), Derek Whittaker (Mr. McQueen), Matthew Carlton (Senator Fipp), Garris Wimmer (Hot Blades Harry), Rona Carter (Ma Strong), Tamiko Robinson Steele (Little Becky Two-Shoes) and Scott Rice (Tiny Tom). The cast includes a few new faces to Nashville Rep who all come to the stage with solid acting chops, namely Mitchell Ryan Miller (Bobby Strong) and Mariah Parris (Hope Cladwell).

Everyone in the cast delivers incredible comedic timing, especially with so many intentional bad jokes sprinkled throughout the show. There's a good bit of slapstick fun, too, with one of the funniest moments of the show coming from Steele when her character's leg brace is removed.

Chambers shines in comedic roles, and she gives it her all as Miss Pennywise with a perfect delivery of "It's a Privilege to Pee" — she lets loose with her impeccable vocal prowess, blowing away the audience.

Many of the show's musical numbers bring the chuckles, and a bona fide favorite is "Don't Be the Bunny," led by Arnold's dastardly character Cladwell. Arnold is usually seen playing more serious, dramatic characters like Willy Loman (Death of a Salesman), Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) or Matthew Harrison Brady (Inherit the Wind). In my opinion, Arnold is the best dramatic actor we have in Nashville, and it's remarkable to experience him in a comedic role. His perfect performance in Urinetown puts an even brighter spotlight on what a treasure he is in Nashville's theater community.

Another favorite musical moment is the West Side Story-inspired "Snuff that Girl" with spectacular choreography and a side-splitting finger-snapping finale.

While the entire cast is solid in this production, a special nod goes to Nashville Rep newcomer Mitchell Ryan Miller as Bobby Strong. He's no stranger to the stage; he has several Los Angeles theater credits in addition to TV and film roles. The Nashville native has a unique knack of blending comedy and passion as evident in his portrayal of Bobby, the leader of the Urinetown rebellion. His flawless vocals are a force to be reckoned with.

Kudos to Nashville Rep for a stellar 35th season opener! If you're looking for the perfect date night and you love comedy, Urinetown is a best bet. I laughed so hard at so many moments I nearly peed my pants!


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