Urinetown takes the piss – in a good way

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.

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Urinetown takes the piss – in a good way

  1. Loved the review Adrian

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Adrian! What a great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Adrian. Specifically, best seat choices are on Jan 28, 30, 31 and Feb 2, 3.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So well done. I think you meant unusually in p7. Cheers.

    Like

    1. Thanks Rick – yes you are right, it is fixed now. Good catch.

      Like

      1. Well written. I enjoyed the read. Went to opening night last night and was floored by the quality overall.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes – I was also very impressed…!

    Like

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