Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

New Line Theatre

Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's review of The Karate Kid - The Musical

Kent Coffel, Kevin Corpuz, and Marshall Jennings
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
I get these emails every day, about auctions for old cars that have been restored. Sometimes there are huge, luxurious Duesenbergs from the 1920s, sometimes humble old Volkswagen Beetles like my dad drove in Los Angeles in the 1960s, made to look brand new. The lists include any kind of vintage car you'd care to name, lovingly rebuilt or decked-out in some crazy new way. And to me, it's the same with theater: old plays restored, made to look new again, beautifully tempting you to lay your money down. But was there ever a show like Urinetown (of 2001 vintage), showing off this month with a jazzy new gloss at New Line Theatre? It's a fantasy of a nightmare of a concept of a dream. And it barrels right at you, at a hundred miles an hour.

New Line founder Scott Miller co-directs, along with choreographer Chris Kernan, and the crazy audacity of it just flies out of them both, with an outstanding cast and a very fine band. Earnest and rascal-ish by turns, Kevin Corpuz plays Bobby Strong, rebelling against a tyrannical regime; opposite Melissa Felps as Hope Cladwell, and I hope will both be playing ingenues for the next twenty years. I was sitting way in back, and there were several volume problems the night I went, but I already knew the show fairly well.

The backstory is presented in dribs and drabs, in trickles, you might say, throughout this wacky, dystopian yarn written by Greg Kotis, who also co-wrote the lyrics with composer Mark Hollmann (of Fairview Heights, Illinois). Much of the tale is told by ironic narrator Officer Lockstock, played with weirdly avuncular charm by Kent Coffel. This production also features another outstanding actor, Todd Schaefer, as the malevolent overlord of Urinetown. Anyway, in the story, there was a twenty-year drought, followed by a societal collapse. Then, rather than spend government money on hydraulic research, the politicians just took bribes and started charging people to go to the bathroom, to save water. If there's magical realism in it, it's in the way we subtly end up sharing the blame for environmental profligacy: half-joking, half-operatically.

Most of the probing questions about the outrageousness of it all are posed by Little Sally (hilarious Jennelle Gilreath), to complete the Platonic dialog. Throw in consummate performer Sarah Gene Dowling as Penelope Pennywise, the charwoman of Amenity #9 ("It's a Privilege to Pee"), along with Zachary Allen Farmer as Joseph "Old Man" Strong, Bobby father, and much of the usual New Line comic rogue's gallery of highly trained singers (including wickedly smirking Colin Dowd as a crooked senator), and you can suddenly see director Miller's long-range plan for 30 years of New Line Theatre snap right into focus. This is one of his strongest shows, where the company's whole three decades of gritty, can't-turn-away entertainments come to hard-driving, satirical fruition.

Urinetown runs through June 25, 2022, at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive (several blocks behind Powell Symphony Hall), St. Louis MO. The theater has its own guarded, lit, and fenced parking lot at Leonard Avenue, a block west of Compton Avenue, and a guard at the door. Because St. Louisans always ask. For information and tickets, please visit

Officer Lockstock: Kent Coffel
Little Sally: Jennelle Gilreath
Bobby Strong: Kevin Corpuz
Hope Cladwell: Melissa Felps
Caldwell B. Cladwell: Todd Schaefer
Penelope Pennywise: Sarah Gene Dowling
Officer Barrel: Marshall Jennings
Mr. McQueen: Clayton Humburg
Senator Fipp: Colin Dowd
Josephine Strong. Mara Bollini
Joseph Strong/Hot Blades Harry: Zachary Allen Farmer
Little Becky Two Shoes: Grace Langford
Tiny Tom: Ian McCreary
Billy Boy Bill: Chris Moore
Robbie the Stockfish: Christopher Strawhun
Soupy Sue: Jessica Winingham

The New Line Band:
Conductor/Keyboard: Tim Clark
Reeds: Kelly Austermann
Trombone: Tom Hanson
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Bass: John Gerdes

Production Staff:
Directors: Scott Miller, Chris Kernan
Music Director: Tim Clark
Sound Designer: Ryan Day
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Scenic Designer: Todd Schaefer
Lighting Designer: Kenneth Zinkl
Lighting Technician: Christopher "Zany" Clark
Props Master: Kimi Short
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy