Food, clothing and shelter are the most commonly acknowledged basic human needs, but what about the need to pee? The premise of Urinetown, a melodramatic Broadway musical currently being presented by The NOLA Project and Theatre UNO, concerns a corporate-controlled social order in which citizens not only are charged for use of the facilities but company police arrest those daring to indiscriminately pee. A siren blares when Old Man Strong (Ian Hoch) discharges against a building, and he is dragged off to the dreaded Urinetown.
"We can't have you peeing for free," Officer Lockstock warns.
The disagreeable premise has been criticized, but the reality is conceivable since there are shortages of clean water in many parts of the world, as well as corporations attempting to monetize the problem. Staged in the round at University of New Orleans' Robert E. Nims Theatre, the Gotham-like world features ragtag vagrants living among piles of refuse and scrounging for a few coins to visit Public Amenity No. 9, the cheapest of the community urinals. (Apparently, the environment was worse during the "stink years.") Penelope Pennywise (Leslie Claverie) is a hard-nosed toll collector with a coin changer hanging from her belt, and she keeps the rabble in line.
Above the din, lavatory lords, led by the vile Caldwell B. Cladwell (Alex Martinez Wallace), president of the Urine Good Company, aka UGC, enjoy a luxurious lifestyle. Cladwell is dressed like Dracula in a black velvet cape and cravat. He glamorizes waste sanitation the same way Sidney Torres IV did garbage disposal. After graduating from an elite school, Cladwell's innocent daughter Hope (Maggie Windler) arrives to work at UGC sending faxes and making copies. She falls for assistant custodian Bobby Strong (Keith Claverie), a revolutionary in a jumpsuit armed with a plunger and a mop who fights for urinary rights. He declares the "days of deprivation are over."
NOLA Project's technical expertise is in high gear for this production. UNO's cavernous theater is transformed into a netherworld by scenic designer Eric Porter, who created multilevel staging with numerous entrances and stairways allowing actors to rush around the space. Tony French's imaginative costumes higlighted aristocrats similar to the privileged class in The Hunger Games. Even the riffraff wear fashionably layered rags. Bill Camp's lighting effects lend real drama and emotional impact to the scenes, and Lindsey Romig's choreography keeps the large cast churning in constant mayhem.
Directed by A.J. Allegra, Urinetown features outstanding performances by Claverie as the hero, Wallace as the villain and Windler as the ingenue. Tony Award-winning music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann parody a variety of musicals, including The Threepenny Opera, Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story, and Act 1's breathtaking finale closely resembles Les Miserables, but imitation does not detract from the enjoyment of Hollman's fine score. The cast delivers blockbuster numbers with verve and passion. Despite its title, Urinetown is the sweetest show NOLA Project has produced and is not to be missed. — MARY RICKARD