March 17, 2014

Destination: Urinetown

Photo courtesy of the Urinetown website
             Out of all of the musicals I have seen, perhaps none stand out quite as potently by title as Urinetown. This dissuading name should by no means put you off. Indeed, it might even attract you to it further. Directed by Jamie Lloyd,Urinetown is a fiercely original and relatively new addition to the St. James Theatre, with its run beginning on February 22nd and set to continue until May 3rd. However, I tip this hot New York import written by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann to hit the West End in no time, especially with a few Tony Awards already under its belt.

The talented cast of Urinetown, photo courtesy of the Urinetown website
             This is no ordinary show experience and it has even been termed the musical for people who don’t like musicals. Narrator Officer Lockstock (Jonathan Slinger) breaks the fourth wall during the first scene, directly addressing the audience and dissecting the nitty-gritty aspects of the performance. He mentions that this will not be a happy musical, but I think the crowd only believed this to be the case when the carnage came swift and true, just as promised. Even the title is mocked as the theatregoers are confronted with the question, “Why would anyone come to see a musical called Urinetown?” Guilty as charged.

Jonathan Slinger charms the audience as narrator Officer Lockstock, photo courtesy of the Urinetown website
             The idea for Urinetown stemmed from a trip Kotis took to Europe, where he discovered that most public toilets are pay-to-use. This will have come as a surprise to the American native. Urinetown is set in a drab and dismal future preoccupied with scraping together the money in order to use public toilets. Well, for the poor folk at least. Rich businessmen need not be concerned with a trip to “public amenity number nine,” the most affordable public toilet in town. This bizarre turn of events and ban on private amenities has been precipitated by a lack of precipitation. In other words, an ongoing drought. Patrons are constantly reminded of their fate if they happen to “relieve themselves” in public or not pay their way: a trip to Urinetown. Police are constantly trawling the streets to reinforce the law and put people in their place, no matter how sadistically.

Police brutality at its finest as Officer Lockstock and Officer Barrel (Adam Perace) seize Bobby Strong (Richard Fleeshman), photo courtesy of the Urinetown website
             The St. James Theatre is quaint, with not a bad seat out of its 312 available. Those sitting in the front row can practically touch the actors on stage. The stage in question is two-tiered, providing action, antics, and dancing both upstairs and downstairs. This further illustrates the noticeable separation of values and priorities between the entitled and the downtrodden. The eyes must always be alert to the comings and goings, because in the small details and unspoken gestures, the true genius of the musical lies.

The Urinetown cast in the midst of a revolution, photo courtesy of the Urinetown website
             With songs such as “It’s a Privilege to Pee,” this satire is laugh-out-loud funny and downright unexpectedly enjoyable to watch. My personal favorite was a tune belted out by business tycoon Caldwell B. Cladwell (Simon Paisley Day) called “Don’t Be The Bunny” where he compares the dregs of society to bunnies that need to be eradicated. All of this is enacted with a manipulated bunny puppet on his right hand. Interspersed with a few amorous ballads, angst-ridden chants, and a gospel-heavy anthem, the music is cleverly thought-out and surprisingly fresh despite its nose-pinching content.

Simon Paisley Day asserting his authority as Caldwell B. Cladwell, photo courtesy of the Urinetown website
             Richard Fleeshman shines as the star of the show, Bobby Strong, and his radiant smile, hip swivels, and brawny physique merely help his case all the more. I could go on, but anyways…he leads the people to liberation by starting a revolution against Cladwell’s money-hungry monopolizing corporation, Urine Good Company. Perhaps an inconvenient speed bump is that Strong just so happens to fall in love with Cladwell’s daughter, Hope (Rosanna Hyland). However, he ends up taking a trip to Urinetown himself, just as his father before him, and the people are left to fend for themselves.

Strong and Hope Cladwell (Rosanna Hyland) hit it off in front of public amenity number nine, photo courtesy of the Urinetown website
             The cast in its entirety was chosen impeccably. In addition to the aforementioned actors, Karis Jack, who plays Little Sally with her never-ending questions, and Jenna Russell as the smart-talking Penelope Pennywise, are also worthy of accolades. That being said, the whole cast is standout and full of star-studded talent. From their smart-alecky attitudes to New York hybrid accents, here is a respectable cast who truly packs a punch with their individual personalities and charisma.

The brilliant Jenna Russell as Penelope Pennywise, photo courtesy of the Urinetown website
             Urinetown provides lots of twists and turns that would ruin the musical if I relayed them here. Abandon all of your preconceived notions in relation to a musical, because this show is bound to squash them. The world is not always a happy and fair place, like the bouncy, standard formula musicals we are used to seeing lead us to believe. Urinetown latches on to this and might not be the most uplifting because of it, but sometimes we need a reality check, delivered under the guise of hilarity and singing.

Fleeshman belts out a tune as Strong, photo courtesy of the Urinetown website
             Salient issues such as overpopulation, global climate change, and of course, power and control over the finite resource of water act as undercurrents to the story. It’s hard not to miss them, but they give a harrowing and all-important edge to Urinetown that makes it more than just another silly song-and-dance number. If you don’t want to take my word for it, let the standing ovation at the show’s close speak for itself.

             For an unforgettable trip, get your ticket to Urinetown here from now until May 3rd.

             [Author's Note: I attended a stellar second showing of Urinetown and bumped into the very gracious Simon Paisley Day, who plays Caldwell B. Cladwell, before the show. In addition, my university annually publishes a student-run magazine called Richmond University Magazine, wherein my above review of Urinetown was recently included.]

Grabbing a sneaky pre-show snap with Simon Paisley Day, the actor who plays Caldwell B. Cladwell
Displaying my above article as seen in Richmond University Magazine

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