What: Urinetown: The Musical (by Michael Hollmann and Greg Kotis)
Where: Langham Court Theatre
When: To Feb. 3
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2
By Adrian Chamberlain
The winner of a clutch of Tony awards in 2002, the Urinetown: The Musical started life as a sparky alt-romp at the New York International Fringe Festival. Since then critics have suggested the magic of this cheerily subversive show (imagine a more benign version of South Park) is best captured in smaller venues.
That’s exactly true if new staging of Urinetown at Langham Court Theatre is any indication. Directed with brio and confidence by Roger Carr, this musical is shoehorned onto the small stage of this former carriage house. By some theatrical miracle the production — with a whopping cast of 26 — avoids becoming a claustrophobic mess. Instead it’s a rollicking party where everyone ends up squeezed into the kitchen having the time of their lives.
Urinetown revolves around a deliberately silly premise — in a murky post-Orwellian future, in order to relieve oneself, one must pay a fee. A drought has made private toilets a no-no, meanwhile, public lavatories are controlled by a Daddy Warbucks tycoon called Cladwell. This imposes both a physical and financial strain on the great unwashed who (thanks to clever designer Diane Madill) wear a flamboyant array of styles ranging from leathery, toilet-plunger-equipped steam-punk to faux-military hobo.
The entire look of the show is a delight. Doug Craig’s fine, bold low-lit set is dominated by a big barrel shoot with metal hoops (it might have been used more for entrances),and a public toilet — Public Amenity 9 – rimmed with a halo of barbed wire.
Fans know Urinetown is a satirical look at musicals replete with meta-theatre asides made directly to the audience. At one point, street urchin Little Sally (played by the appealingly peppy Hailey Fowler) quips to narrator Officer Lockstock: “I guess you don’t want to overload me with too much exposition, huh?” When the street people undertake a revolution to regain free access to pissoirs, we recognize nods to Les Miserables, West Side Story and other chestnuts.
The hero and heroine are of the vapidly tongue-in-cheek Rocky Horror Picture Show variety. Hope (charmingly played Alyssa Bryce) is the empty headed ingenue. On Thursday night, playing Hope’s love interest Bobby Strong, Liam McDonald delivered a notable performance. Not only does McDonald sing and move well, he’s able to strike a comic sweet spot deftly, capturing the show’s smartass style, yet not overdoing it so the whole thing deteriorates into a Benny Hill guffaw-fest.
This is an unusually strong cast for community theatre. Emilee Nimetz as Pennywise the toilet empress is another bright spot; she’s a solid performer who knows how to sing, bulls-eyeing high notes with clarity. Another shining light: Dwayne Gordon as Officer Lockstock. Like McDonald, he offers a strong stage presence and displays natural comic ability.
A musical quartet tucked in the back navigates the score well. And this music, a pastiche of styles, is certainly no walk in the park. My favourite number was Run, Freedom, Run – an over-the-top inspirational spiritual in which Bobby conducts his choir of misfits with the enthusiasm of speed-freak whole ignoring Hope who’s kidnapped and trussed like a chicken. That one drew cheers.
It’s a hugely ambitious understaking. All told 80 people pitched in, including technicians, dressers and so. The effort has paid off. Urinetown looks like a palpable hit for Langham Court. Tickets are going fast, so if you’re at all interested, the time to hesitate is through.