Review – Urinetown The Musical

Urinetown The Musical by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman – Gallery Players- Sir John Mills Theatre till Sat April 8th

A musical about toilets? Really? And with urine in the title? This didn’t sound like a great idea – and yes – this is probably the weirdest musical you will ever see – but combining Brecht with Rogers and Hammerstein this (mainly) young and vibrant cast will give you an evening of both entertainment and thought provoking drama that will get you thinking long after the show is over.

Composed after the American writer’s experience with pay per use toilets in Europe, this new work premiered on Broadway in 2001 to wild acclaim, receiving 10 Tony nominations and wining best score, best book and best director.

On one level it is a spoof on the musical genre – a tongue in cheek look at the elements in all musical shows – including an unlikely love story, an unlikelier plot and a stereotypical set of villains and heroes. On another level like Brecht it has much to say about the oppression of the state via petty rules and regulations – and the world wide ecology disaster that is waiting to happen made more likely by the strange times we live in, with the mass migrations in the Middle East and US president Donald Trump hell bent an overturning health care and climate legislation.

Its never easy producing a full cast musical in the cramped confines of Sir John Mills but Dave Borthwick’s brilliantly atmospheric set and Helen Clarke’s direction make best us of the small space on which the plot, such as it is, plays out. We are in a run down area of a Gotham- like City and after a 20 year drought, the authorities have put the water shortage problem in the hands of private firm Urinegood run by evil boss Caldwell B Caldwell, a brilliant, well observed and thoroughly enjoyable portrayal by Martin Leigh, who is financed by dodgy senator Fipp (Daren Wayland). They have banned private facilities so that the whole population has been forced to use their public amenities and pay for the privilege. And the poor people are feeling the squeeze in more ways than one.

Facility No. 9 is administered by cleaner Bobby Strong, played by the multi talented Wade Ablitt who fills the stage with his presence and his voice, and his boss Miss Pennywise – a very powerful performance by Natasha Staffieri. Bobby has empathy with the poor who cannot afford their basic rights, and after his father is arrested for peeing in the street he decides to lead a rebellion. The subplot involves the boss’s daughter – Hope Gladwell with whom Bobby falls in love – but who is then taken as a hostage by the rebellion.

This is a show that on the surface never takes itself seriously – narrated with a knowing wink and nod by one half of cop duo  Lockstock and Barrel (Roger Jackaman and Phil Cory hamming it up nicely)  – yet the message is there for all to see. The music ranges between Sondheim, Rogers and Hammerstein, jazz and gospel in a whirlwind of scenes that hardly stop to take breath. The cast give it their all and Steph Brown’s choreography is both slick and full of humour – racking up the tempo especially in the main chorus numbers which are a treat to experience.

The show gets off to a bit of a slow start – and there were a few opening night nerves – but this musical will grow as the run progresses – and the energy and commitment from the cast was obvious.

This was a brave choice for Gallery Players, but If you can get over the oddities – and cope with the rather surreal subject matter – then you will have a really entertaining and enjoyable evening with a company at the top of their game.

Suzanne Hawkes

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