Urinetown: The Musical 

By Grindstone Theatre, Venue 16 (Holy Trinity Anglican Church)

Be careful not to laugh too hard at this musical that cheerfully subverts some of our most basic functions. It may lead you to a need to pee and, as the rather bizarre Urinetown: The Musical points out, that could lead to dire results.

Urinetown plays like most big stage musicals. The Broadway style words and music by Mark Hollmann and book by Greg Kotis are buoyant, bright and catchy. Only the subject matter is kaka.

We find ourselves in a dystopian future where urination is strictly rationed by large corporations supported by a corrupt government. You want to pee? You pay! Or as the formidable Keeper of the Loo, Miss Pennywise (a raucous Natalie Czar) bellows, “If you want to pee – you gotta go through me.”

And if you try a sub rosa tinkle, say behind a friendly tree, you are bundled off to this scary place (called Urinetown) from which you never return.

The narrator, Officer Lockstock (Bob Rasco – big of voice and personality) is that familiar fellow – the avuncular neighbourhood cop. But try to pee for free on his watch and you’re bundled off. He is constantly questioned about how the musical is going by the perky moppet, Little Sally (Carol Chu). Then there’s our hero, the straight arrow public toilet janitor, Bobby Strong (Ethan Snowden – with heroic demeanour and matching set of pipes), and the love of his life, Hope (Rachel Matichuk – channeling the wide-eyed sunny hopefulness of Dorothy Gale and her big voice as well), the hopelessly upbeat daughter of the old Scrooge-like moneybags Caldwell B. Cladwell (the delightfully avaricious Paul Morgan Donald, probably best known as a jazz musician and singer but who rocks out here with a great big Broadway style voice) who is the whiz behind the entire water closet rip-off.

Director-choreographer Byron Martin sure knows how to put a Broadway show together and his cast (all 14 or them), right down to the smallest player, is faultless.

There is much here that is grim, given the subject matter, but the approach by this talented exuberant company of performers, celebrating the metaphorical possibilities of the water closet, is to make us laugh uproariously.

Hopefully it won’t trigger your bladder.

You might want to go beforehand. The program says the musical is 110 minutes long and the performance we saw clocked in at 2 hours and 15 minutes (including intermission).

5 out of 5

Heathers: the Musical

By Scona Alumni Theatre Co., Venue 25  (Strathcona High School)

“I’m a good person!” burbles Westerberg High regul’r girl newbie Veronica (Emilie Rogers).

Her best friend is the cosmetically challenged natural-born victim Martha (Geraldine Schaer). Veronica, showing poor moral judgement but great make-over possibilities, opts to sacrifice her loser buddy to Heather Chandler (Abbey Schwartz) the leader of the ruthless golden girl in-crowd ruling clique of the high school. She has two sycophants – and all three of these lip-gloss fascists are named Heather.

So begins Heathers: The Musical, which is considerably darker than any other high school show you’ve ever seen. It’s another high-energy Linette Smith production for the Scona Alumni Theatre Co.

The driving musical features savage adolescent politics, a possible rape, murder and suicide as it careens toward the possibility of a Carrie-style climax. You know, the kind of stuff that goes on in every high school.

And then it turns dark.

Where else will you find a grieving father delivering a heart-felt eulogy to My Dead Gay Son?

The musical is based on Daniel Waters’ guilty pleasure screenplay for the 1988 Michael Lehmann cult movie. The successful Broadway musical may be based on the film, but then Columbine and suicides based on on-line bullying began to happen and the music, book and lyrics by Lawrence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy certainly mirrors that. It’s a tough score, but this super-talented Scona troupe under Smith’s brisk, economical direction certainly delivers the wild ride with gusto. Smith is adept at mounting the raise-you-in-your-seat musical crescendo leading to a powerhouse finish.

Perhaps with too much gusto because, as the evening goes on, the singing hardens approaching volcanic upper Richter-scale proportions leaving one to wonder why are these people bellowing at us. And, alas, deep into the second act, the cast is abandoned by the vehicle which devolves into repetition leaving the evening about 20 minutes too long.

Rogers is an appealing heroine and is blessed with a powerhouse voice. James Kwak is a strong stage presence as JD, her mysterious Baudelaire-quoting, black-clad boyfriend. The entire cast has spectacular voices.

4 out of 5

Olive Copperbottom: A New Musical from Charles Dickens and Penny Ashton

By Penash Prodcutions, New Zealand, Venue 37  (La Cite Francophone)

Last year New Zealand pixie Penny Ashton brought us a somewhat wacky but virtuoso musical vision of the works of Jane Austen in the royally entertaining Promise and Promiscuity. This year she returns with a rollicking tribute to all things Dickensian in Olive Copperbottom: A New Musical by Charles Dickens and Penny Ashton. This girl sure works with some impressive co-writers.

Like the last work, this an often exhausting but always entertaining mashup of every Dickens book you’ve ever read. You can check them off as you listen. An orphan leaves an orphanage (Oliver Twist), joins the Paddington Players theatre company (Nicholas Nickleby) and is pursued across England by two men – one morally bankrupt, the other her ever faithful consort, Edward Goodsort.

Ashton imbues all with her own cheery sense of female entitlement and the result is good cheeky fun. And, surprisingly, the play is not only true to the great writer’s spirit, but strangely hangs together as a compelling tale of its own.

Ashton is a winsome perpetual motion machine. She creates a believable world peopled by multiple characters. She often just needs a change of accent or an arch of eyebrow to change characters – sometimes within the bounds of the same song. She sings, dances and cavorts around the stage. There are puns – “The whole world is conspiring to tarnish the name of Copperbottom!” – startlingly sharp social observations and a hilarious undertow of innuendo. “Join me for a drink at the Cock and Swallow,” she says. There are the mandatory jokes about walls and Trump – which are always met with laughter and applause.

Some of this riotous 70 minutes is set to music including familiar tunes from Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Greig.

Somewhere ‘Ol Boz is smiling.

5 out of 5