Review: Sunnyvale Players have themselves a potty in delightful ‘Urinetown’

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Hope (Jessica Ellithorpe) and Bobby (Steve Roma) find love among the urine-stained walls in “Urinetown” at Sunnyvale Community Players. (All photos by Christopher Berger)

To pee or not to pee, that is the question.

Well, if you’ve got the flow for the flow, the answer is that you can let it go like a fine wine because you have the dollar bills, yo. Peeing is expensive when toilets are newly private instead of public, so those who don’t have a lot of extra money have to save up, control their liquid intake a bit, and shake it loose when the loose change adds up.

What is terribly delightful about the Sunnyvale Community Players production of “Urinetown,” a satirical look inside politics and musical theatre, is the way it marries inane political policy with inaner musical theatre conventions. Musical theatre needs a good title but not too much exposition. A hero. An ingenue. A villain. Poor ass people that can give us a little of that “One Day More” sauce.

The construction of the show, which won three Tonys in 2002, is equal parts Brechtian, Dickensian, Les Miserables, Fiddler and power ballad.

That is what gives the show its succulent form. It’s the wit of the show’s creators, Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, that informs this world where greed and grime dominate the proceedings and the innocent bladder is collateral damage.

What works very well in this production, directed confidently by Thomas Times, is that the cast finds unbridled glee in nailing the show’s very quirky style. Despite a few principal performances that had moments where the vocals were not met with the requisite sharpness, so many individual performances were quite effective. And one of the show’s signature traits was nailed here – the strength of a rich blend of harmonic voices in the joyous ensemble numbers.

The play is set in an alternate universe in the mid-1900s. The poor, impoverished souls are smack dab in the middle of a water shortage. The situation creates an opportunity for the Urine Good Company to make some serious money on the backs of the poorest among them. The company, led by Cladwell B. Cladwell (Ben Hatch), is a classic villain – bad hair, ugly sunglasses and horrific clothing.

When Bobby Strong (Steve Roma) decides to rebel and let everyone into the worst toilet at his place of employment for free, working for the jovial Penelope Pennywise (Angela Cesena), he creates a mini international incident. Because he is the virtuous, dashing rebel looking to crush the evil, miserly Capraesque villain, the lovely ingenue Hope (Jessica Ellithorpe) has to fall in love with him. You know why? Because, hey, musicals bruh.

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The audience is placed in the hands of trusty narrator Officer Lockstock (Sam Nachison)

But the one big issue is that Hope is the daughter of the dastardly Cladwell. It will be up to both of them to power through all that familial evil, even though it’s her daddy.

Roma cuts a great presence, playing a Bobby that not only has a heart but is dark, brooding, always ready to break into a West Side Story battle, but not the one where he brings a knife to a gun fight. Instead, he brings a plunger, but a seemingly very dangerous plunger.

Ellithorpe is a sharp Hope, one that is the right amount of wide-eyed naïveté, with a nice vocal texture to boot. Cesena, as Penelope, does everything to sell her big brash characterization, especially nailing her rendition of “It’s a Privilege to Pee” with a generous belting presence.

All of the world is seen through the observant eyes of Officer Lockstock, and Sam Nachison brings him to the audience with a fervent zeal. There is never a moment when one can tire from hearing him say, “Little Sally,” because it is never not funny. And his rich timbre helps him create quite an ambience that sets the show in motion.

Adding to the show’s delectable texture is the performance of Gwendolyne Wagner, who plays Bobby’s passionate mother Josephine. She provides great humor in the way she receives information, sending her into a tailspin of humor-filled handwringing.

The veteran band is led by conductor Ande Jacobson, with quite the task of a terribly challenging score, one that is loaded with plenty of sounds that span across the musical theatre canon. The singing is led by vocal director Juanita Harris, with the voices really peaking in the dazzling “Run Freedom Run.” Derrick Contreras’ choreography does a fine job of matching all of the various music with keen movement, and the costumes of Sylvia Chow are stellar.

“Urinetown” made quite a splash when it premiered off-Broadway in 2001, and in 2019, and it still has a freshness, warmth and relevance that makes it timeless. Unfortunately, it also feels a lot younger than its 18 years, bringing forth a generous heaping of timely relevance.

This is where I am tempted to make a comparison between the magical feeling of urinating and musical theatre, but I shan’t. I will just say, watching a show as delightful and comic as this one will make you say, “Ahhhhhh.”

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Sunnyvale Players presents “Urinetown”
Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollmann
Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotis
Directed by Thomas Times
The Word: A show as relevant today as it was in 2001, the Sunnyvale Players dive into the humor of the show with gusto.
Stars: 4 out of 5
Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes with an intermission
Through Nov. 10th
Sunnyvale Community Center
550 East Remington Drive, Sunnyvale CA
Tickets range from $32 – $38
For tickets, visit sunnyvaleplayers.org.

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