Actor’s Express’ splashy ‘Urinetown’ dazzles at Oglethorpe

Russell Scott (in foreground) leads a social protest in the irreverent musical “Urinetown,” a co-production of Actor’s Express and Oglethorpe University Theatre continuing through Feb. 19.
Courtesy of Actor’s Express/Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Russell Scott (in foreground) leads a social protest in the irreverent musical “Urinetown,” a co-production of Actor’s Express and Oglethorpe University Theatre continuing through Feb. 19. Courtesy of Actor’s Express/Casey Gardner Ford

The opening-night performance of “Urinetown,” the second musical collaboration between Actor’s Express and Oglethorpe University Theatre (after last year’s “Heathers”), started out with a couple of all-too-common technical glitches that beset many musical-theater productions, involving the pesky, if necessary, practice of using body mics on singers as a means of amplifying their vocals in order to be heard over the live band or orchestra accompanying them.

In their introductory scenes, a pair of the main cast members were each forced to contend with wired devices prone to static-y feedback and/or cutting off altogether. “Great,” I initially thought to myself, mentally rolling my eyes. “Here we go again. Now, I’ll need to reiterate, once more, my personal pet peeve regarding the problematic side effects of those darn body mics.”

So far, so par for the course, I continued to silently lament. But, wait — or, perhaps, “Wha…?!?,” to borrow from a farcical running gag in “Urinetown” that also typically features an accentuated double-take. By the time those two aforementioned actors reentered the stage, the faulty issues had been corrected, and the show went on its satirically merry way without any such additional incidents.

The Actor’s Express/Oglethorpe University Theatre musical “Urinetown” co-stars Emma Jean Scott and Russell Scott.

Credit: Courtesy of Actor’s Express/Casey Gardner Ford

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Credit: Courtesy of Actor’s Express/Casey Gardner Ford

For something repeatedly self-proclaimed in the script (by Greg Kotis) as being “not a happy musical,” in fact, it makes one more than just happy, but rather absolutely ecstatic, to report that nothing could be further from the truth. Joyously envisioned by Express artistic director Freddie Ashley and exuberantly executed on nearly every level, “Urinetown” is a singularly sensational delight.

Despite its deliberately melodramatic and deliciously tongue-in-cheek manner, the premise sounds mighty bleak, to be sure. It takes place in a dystopian metropolis, where a 20-year drought has resulted in water shortages that enable a corrupt corporation, the Urine Good Company, to exploit the situation for financial gain by imposing a tax on citizens for the “Privilege to Pee,” as it goes in one of the show’s dozen or so catchy songs (music by Mark Hollman, lyrics by Hollman and Kotis).

Music director Ashley Prince (on keyboards) fronts an instrumental ensemble that also includes Francisco Lora (bass), Stephen Douglas Wilson (brass), Mark Biering (drums) and Conor Neuseur (reeds). Similarly, every person in the large chorus deserves to be individually cited, too: not only those with actual speaking parts (Megan Cramer, Skyler Brown, Nicholas DiPuma, Patty De La Garza, Cameron Lane, Chloe “CeCe” Campbell, Chris Kesserwani and James Patrick), but the rest of the group, as well (Amber Williams, Jacien Thorne, Ciara Pyscznski, Tatyana Mack).

With the possible exception of a trifling “Don’t Be the Bunny” routine, delivered by the maniacal utilities mogul and his sundry sniveling sycophants, there’s nary a false note among the songs. Those roles are respectively played by the veteran Jeff McKerley (somewhat toning down his patented shtick, presumably in deference to material that’s already over-the-top), alongside Trevor Perry, Niko Carleo, Wynne Kelly, Summer Stockard and Caroline Gammage.

Uniformly, all of the other principal characters are marvelously performed by a highly talented bunch, in both musical and acting terms. Russell Scott portrays our dashing protagonist, who leads the populace in an uprising against the nefarious big business, and Emma Jean Scott is the virtuous ingenue with whom he’s smitten; their romantic ballad, “Follow Your Heart,” is among several highlights, as are his numbers “Look at the Sky” and the especially rousing “Run, Freedom, Run!”

Notwithstanding that body-mic mishap on opening night, so is the “Privilege to Pee” solo from Megan K. Hill, as another funny corporate foil (and then some). A wonderful Tatum McBride also scores as Little Sally, the precocious social commentator of the piece, which features a humorous duet with Scott’s hero figure, “Tell Her I Love Her.” As a neighborhood patrolman and the story’s narrator, besides getting to display his peerless baritone voice, Kevin Harry reveals a rarely seen penchant for comedy, and Zion Glenn holds his ground as his underling; their “Cop Song” is a genuine hoot.

Which brings us to a final, ultimate commendation for choreographer Precious West, whose disciplined moves here, simply put, rate among the most thoroughly imaginative and impressively wide-ranging demonstrations we’ve had the sheer pleasure to enjoy in a very long time.

Who would have ever anticipated that the freedom to “pee” might be merely one of so many other privileges to be appreciated in “Urinetown”?



Through Feb. 19. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. $35-$40 ($20 for students). Conant Performing Arts Center (at Oglethorpe University), 4494 Peachtree Road NE, Brookhaven. 404-607-7469,

Bottom line: Practically from the get-go, an irresistible sensation.