Members of the cast of the Studio 58 production of Urinetown. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Members of the cast of the Studio 58 production of Urinetown. Photo by Emily Cooper.

The cast and crew of Urinetown confirm that Studio 58 is a breeding ground for some of the finest contributors to Canada’s performing arts.

Many shine in this musical about how the shortage of water inflicts misery upon the poor, as they’re denied free access to the city’s public toilets by the bully who owns the franchise. Those who stand out aren’t just in the starring roles. A case in point is Vuk Prodanovic who plays Tiny Tom, among other ensemble parts. His compelling performance, atop each note, ahead of each step, steeped in his worm-like, crippled character, exhibits the stuff of which stars are made.

But Prodanovic is not alone by any means.

Ivy Charles attacks the part of down-market urinal chatelaine, Penelope Pennywise, with sassy energy and conviction. Gabriel Covarrubias’s uses his huge presence to encapsulate Caldwell B. Cladwell, the ignorant real estate mogul who wields power over the bladder-bursting inhabitants of Urinetown, with the arrogance of a president who act like a king. As with all such ill-doers, he finally gets his comeuppance; in this instance, at the hands of his daughter, played delicately  – until she takes charge – by Emma Ross.

Another performance worthy of mention is that of Caleb Dyks as Bobby Strong. He leads the second act with quiet strength, in the same way he leads an uprising against Cladwell. Spoiler Alert: His attempt to save his fellow-strugglers-for-justice, though heroic, tragically fails, through no fault of his own. A monumental fall is so superbly choreographed and executed that it jolts the audience into thinking it’s real.

Like most of his counterparts and his character Strong, Dyks comes into his own in the second half, when the musical matures from a bit of a romp into a play with something pithy to say. Many fine performances emerge, from significant roles such as Emily Case’s cute but sad Little Sally, to those so small that their names are lost in the mix. For example, a revolutionary, hiding in the sewers from the cops, gives a deadpan pull of his long legs just in time to avoid the flashlight of the cop pursuing him and his buddies. His timing and casual attitude are spot-on.

Caleb Dyks & Ivy Charles in the Studio 58 production of Urinetown. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Caleb Dyks & Ivy Charles in the Studio 58 production of Urinetown. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Yvan Morissette’s dramatic set reflects the chasm between those inhabiting the glass skyscrapers uptown and the underground brute structures that support them in downtrodden Urinetown. Here exist the miserable beings whom the one percent living the good life exploit or ignore. Huge faucets grow from the walls of the skyscrapers, like orchids, while the poor beg to be allowed to pass water.

As in most musicals, good eventually overcomes evil. The people rise up and triumph. But Greg Kotis, who wrote the book and many of the lyrics, adds a word of caution to all would-be revolutionaries, not to sit back on their laurels after their successes.

The cast is supported by the brilliant choreography of Julie Tomaino and tight direction of Courtenay Dobbie. Further support comes from a five-piece band that started out a tad untidily on opening night but, once the action got underway, played in tune and as one.

Takeaway life lessons and a sense of hope, as well as an awareness of pitfalls en route to, or even after achieving our goals, make for a fine piece of theatre. Add to that the Broadway-quality of this presentation of Urinetown, particularly in the second half, and it’s assured that the future of musical theatre in this country is in excellent hands.

Urinetown with books and lyrics by Greg Kotis & music and lyrics by Mark Hollman. Directed by Courtenay Dobbie. Musical direction by Diane Speirs. Choreography by Julie Tomaino.  A Studio 58 production on stage at Langara College’s Studio 58 (100 W 49th Ave, Vancouver) until February 16. Visit langara.ca/studio-58 for tickets and information.