REVIEW: Urinetown returns to the City College stage after a two-year hiatus

San Diego City College’s Visual and Performing Arts revives its production of Urinetown, the first musical at City since 2019


As rebellion in Urinetown ensues, hero Bobby Strong (Gabe Adelman) leads his people in pursuit of Hope in a purple dress (Nicole Ogata) both literally and figuratively on the stage of the Saville Theatre at San Diego City College, during a technical rehearsal on April 20, 2020. The cast maneuvered an intricate score despite having to hit all its technical cues for the very first time. Photo by Philip Salata/City Times Media

Philip Salata, News Editor

The first cast and crew of San Diego City College Visual and Performing Arts production of the musical Urinetown were several weeks into rehearsals when COVID-19 brought everything to a sudden stop.

A temporary lockdown turned into an indefinite hiatus. Lives changed, people moved on, some left town, some graduated. 

But two years after the production was shelved, actress Carly Stacey came back to finish what she had started.

And for her, it was personal. 

Stacey plays the role of Little Sally, a brave girl who guides us through the moral dilemmas and political metaphors posed by the satire about the freedom to urinate, all while clutching her stuffed bunny rabbit. 

For Stacey, her character is 12 years old, the same age as a theater colleague and friend of hers who tragically passed away. His quirk and sarcasm were an inspiration for Little Sally.

Stacey said she was motivated to come back to finish this chapter of her life, finally reaching some closure in honoring her young friend.

Both for those who newly joined the cast and crew of Urinetown, as well as those who returned, the staging of the musical in the Saville Theatre is a celebration that finally brings song and dance back to the public – the first musical at City since 2019.

And although the stage had already been warmed up with productions of Shakespeare in the fall 2021 semester, director Katie Rodda finds a particular beauty in a group of people singing together, especially after a period of isolation.

“For me, characters sing when the feelings are too strong that they can’t just talk,” Rodda said.

And it seems that all the pressures of isolation are now steaming away in resonant harmony as the cast of Urinetown rings strong and clear notes under the musical direction of Richard Dueñez Morrison. 

Morrison is new to City, and Rodda was impressed by how far he was able to push the students, who clearly responded positively to what Rodda called Morrison’s “high standards.”

She said this with admiration.

Richard Dueñez Morrison with the band
Richard Dueñez Morrison works out details with the band during the technical rehearsal of Urinetown. Photo by Philip Salata/City Times Media

And though choreographer Kristin Arcidiacono suspected the long sedentary period would mark her students, she was pleasantly surprised.

“They are coming back with a lot of spirit and a lot of energy,” Arcidiacono said.

Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis’ Urinetown is a vibrant comeback, with a twist. Though the piece has all the fanfare and slapstick cliche of a musical, it isn’t exactly optimistic.

It tells the story of a fictional town in which you have to pay to urinate, and of course, some villain is making the big bucks off the poor.

I suppose that isn’t the fictional part. The play reflects on issues of capitalism and traces the process of a people’s uprising.

Another theme of the play is drought, and for Rodda Urinetown also raises issues related to climate change. Rodda and her team are actually contributing a portion of the proceeds to the Climate Action Campaign.

So behind the pee-pee and poo-poo jokes, there are larger questions at play.

“After two years of lockdown, a kind of ridiculous show and a satire, is kind of what we needed this time in our lives,” Rodda said. 

And when you think the play is over, when you think the plot is all resolved, a heavy-handed cynicism hits the stage.

But for that, you will have to see the play.

The team has staged a professional and fantastic work, accompanied by a live band and a talented crew that includes a student-run sound booth operating over a dozen individual wireless mics.

Gabe Adelman’s portrayal of the lead Boby Strong is tender and believable, while his heroine counterpart Hope, played by Nicole Ogata, strikes the exact key between idealism and naiveté.

And Stacey, in her role as the beloved Little Sally, brings an energetic and almost soothsaying humor, embodying the play’s bigger ideas in the character of a little girl.

The Saville Theatre at San Diego City College will be holding performances at half capacity, offering 146 seats per performance.

What: Urinetown

Where: Saville Theatre, 14th and C Street, San Diego

When: Thursday, April 28, at 2 p.m. (Matinee)
Fridays, April 22, and 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays, April 23, and 30 at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays, April 24 and May 1 at 2 p.m.

Cost: General admission $15; Students, seniors, military, SDCCD employees $10; Matinee $5