'Urinetown' overcomes many risks

Published May 12, 2007

LARGO - It's one of the unlikeliest success stories in theater history.

Urinetown seems almost consciously designed to be a show that won't appeal to the masses. It's about a totalitarian state where people have to pay high fees to use a bathroom. But after beginning in fringe festivals, it graduated to tiny New York theaters, then to Broadway where it won three Tony Awards, and to national tours. Lately it has become popular in regional productions and even high schools.

Still, Eight O'Clock Theatre took a bit of a risk in staging Urinetown. Like many community theaters in this area, it depends largely on older people for its audience base. It made far from a safe bet putting on a musical with a deliberately distasteful title and story; even the songs, which are sometimes reminiscent of Kurt Weill, won't appeal to everyone.

But judging from the opening night performance, Eight O'Clock Theatre won that bet. The company has gathered a wonderful cast of mostly young actors and singers, under strong direction by Jason Tucker, and it has created a show that seemed to appeal to everyone in the demographic-defying audience.

There's undeniably an off-putting element to Urinetown, but the characters address that so openly that it quickly becomes a nonissue. And there are undeniably moments when the production's community theater nature is evident. Harmonies are sometimes not quite perfect, and ensemble numbers don't have quite the strength and energy they should.

But much more often, Tucker and his cast deliver a quality that's unusual even in professional productions. You could throw a million bucks and some big-name stars into the first 12 minutes of Act 2, and it probably wouldn't be significantly better. The entire cast has charisma to burn, from the ensemble members on up. The performers in the key roles, Rand Smith as Officer Lockstock and Rachel Prather as Little Sally, are standouts, both handling the quirky, presentational humor perfectly. Prather, a high school junior, seems to be a star in the making.

Other fine performances come from Brent DiRoma, Katie Timmins, Jay Allen and Coby Kay Callahan. But the show doesn't have a substandard performer.

C.J. Marshall has designed an effectively gray, gritty industrial set. It's supposed to be nasty and oppressive, which it is, but it's still somehow attractive enough that you don't mind looking at for two hours.

The real heart of Urinetown is the satire of musical theater conventions, and that will appeal to all theater lovers. The quality of this production and these performances will appeal to anyone who appreciates great entertainment.

Marty Clear can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

If you go


The musical runs through May 20 at the Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive. 8 tonight, 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Friday and May 19, 2 p.m. May 20. $25 adults, $15 students. (727) 587-6793; www.largoarts.com.