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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
URINETOWN
at the Apollo

DROUGHT AND DISASTER
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Matthew Seadon-Young and Jenna Russell/ Ph: Johan Persson

A world wracked by ecological disaster in which a chronic shortage of water results in a government-enforced banning of all private toilets, is hardly the stuff of which successful Broadway musicals are made. Here, when you need to spend a penny, you have, quite literally, to do so only in a public convenience. And at a cost. If you’re caught peeing anywhere else, you’re hauled off to a place of execution called Urinetown – which also happens to be the controversial title of the musical in question.
 
With more than a passing nod to the familiar conventions of musical comedy in general and to the work of Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill in particular, the creative team involved in this long-running, Tony-award-winning show deliver something of a hybrid that manages, with a certain amount of success, to walk a precarious tightrope between uproarious satire and thought-provoking seriousness.
 
The comic elements manifest themselves in the self-conscious delight its authors Greg Kotis (book and lyrics) and Mark Hollman (music and lyrics) take in the knowledge of just how unappealing their subject matter is.
 
For example, one of the leading characters, Officer Lockstock (Jonathan Slinger), who also serves as the show’s narrator, knowingly addresses the audience with remarks like, “Nothing can kill a show like too much exposition,” or “Dreams only come true in happy musicals – and a few Hollywood movies –and this certainly isn’t either one of those.” He’s also aware that the combination of the subject matter and the unappealing title could result in audiences staying away in droves. 
 
It may all be a touch disingenuous, but it works. And if you’re au fait with Broadway musical conventions, you’ll have the added bonus of recognising parodies of the genre both in the score and in the book.
 
Running through the show’s humorous fabric is a serious seam that touches on ecological disaster, the victimisation of innocent men and women by greedy corporate schemers, and callous vengeance (the hero is thrown to his death from a skyscraper – a shocking moment, no doubt, for New York audiences, as Urinetown opened three weeks after 9/11).
 
The crux of the plot involves a revolution (echoes of Les Mis) organised by the show’s hero Bobby Strong (Matthew Seadon-Young) against the government-lead baddie of the piece (Simon Paisley Day) whose daughter Hope (Rosanna Hyland) provides the obligatory romantic interest as she’s in love with Bobby.
 
Unfortunately, the authors haven’t always heeded the adage on “exposition” provided by the narrator, and the first act occasionally bogs down with too much of it. The second act is much livelier and benefits from two of the show’s best numbers, "Snuff That Girl" and the gospel-like "Run Freedom Run."
 
What is constantly on offer, though, is the endless supply of energy director Jamie Lloyd generates from a fully committed, terrifically talented cast, and Sutra Gilmour’s atmospheric, darkly foreboding, subterranean set. The production is slick and professional to its core.
 
Yet despite its boldness of theme and occasional touches of originality, I’m not quite sure why the show ran a massive 965 performances on Broadway. It’s good, but only sporadically.

 


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