Pros: Everything! My personal highlight was the musical number ‘Don’t Be The Bunny’, sang by business tycoon Caldwell B. Cladwell.
Cons: I highly encourage going to the toilet before the performance.
A new breed of musical has arrived at the London theatre scene with Tony Award winner Urinetown. After a successful thirteen years running between the New York International Fringe and Broadway where it has won an outstanding three Tonys for Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Direction, Urinetown transfers to the UK at the stage of St. James Theatre.
Urinetown presents a dystopian future in which our hydraulic resources are running dangerously low, leaving no option but to ban the use of private urinals. Everyone must rely on public toilets to do their business, toilets like the one we find on stage upon entering the theatre – Amenity Number Nine. The water sources and hence the privilege to pee is regulated by a big soulless corporation run by urinal mogul Caldwell B. Cladwell, played by Simon Paisley Day. They set a fee for the use of these public amenities, and prohibit any other way to empty the bladder under a Health Act. Peeing outside of any facility under their control is illegal and punished by sending the perpetrators to Urinetown.
Back to Amenity Number Nine in which the less fortunate members of society go to relieve themselves: run under an iron…plunger by urinal madam Ms. Pennywise (Jenna Russell), the future peeing rebellion are lining up for the morning toilet rush. Officer Lockstock, a ruthless police officer played by Jonathan Slinger, and Little Sally (Karis Jack) step out of the action to introduce the story and setting in which we find the characters. We also meet our protaganist Bobby Strong (Richard Fleeshman) who works as an assistant for Ms. Pennywise and who, in a few moments, will fall hopelessly in love with Cladwell’s daughter, Hope (Rosanna Hyland).
The musical numbers feature songs under titles like ‘What is Urinetown?’ ‘It’s a Privilege to Pee’, and ‘Follow Your Heart’. For me, a good musical experience must have you humming tunes on your way back from the theatre, and as those unlucky passengers in the tube sitting next to me can testify – this definitely did it. The lyrics and choreography are bloody and dark at times, at others sunny and lively with steampunk themed gospel and cabaret numbers thrown in the mixture. The result is a unique neo-noir libretto that shocks and excites the senses.
Superb acting from the cast strengthens the surreal, Kafka-esque plot of the little people overwhelmed by a powerful bureaucracy. There is a big contrast between the darker characters of Russell, Slinger and Days and the more naïve, sunnier roles of Fleeshman and Hyland. This gives a sarcastic tone to the heroic actions of Bobby Strong as he leads the ‘Free the Pee’ movement, and Hope’s way of dealing with the struggle of romantic love versus family. There is a very interesting dynamic between the characters Little Sally and Officer Lockstock – they approach each other to comment on (and make fun of) the actions of the characters, the title, and even the theme.
All above elements come together at the stage of St. James Theatre; I believe the smaller performing space and auditorium works better at delivering the experience than the bigger theatres it was previously performed in. It allows the audience to freely examine the intricate double-decker staging and orchestra, who sit on the upper level.
Urinetown is a combination of neo-noir sociopolitical ideas, humour, gore, steampunk settings, cabaret, gospel and Broadway musical numbers, all sewn together to make a Frankenstein titan of musical theatre. This is the cult classic in musicals that I for one, was waiting for
Music & Lyrics: Mark Hollmann
Book & Lyrics: Greg Kotis
Directed by: Jamie Lloyd
Musical Director: Alan Williams
Box Office: 0844 264 2140
Booking Link: http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/book-tickets/?event=12712
Booking Until: 3rd May 2014.