Urinetown: The Musical at St James Theatre
Walking through the hushed streets of London in the late afternoon spring sunshine one cannot help but miss the despondent, gloomy world of Urinetown: The Musical. Perfectly backward. But therein lies the show’s success (three Tony Awards from Broadway): paradox. A show that satirises capitalism, law, environmental disasters and the musical form itself is bound to be a socially disturbing and darkly romantic piece of theatre, and Urinetown is like nothing else in its flair of satirical genius.
One important thing: it is not set in a place called Urinetown. Urinetown is the place where someone goes if they break the law of paying to pee. This law, enforced by the wealthy oppressor Caldwell B Cladwell (Simon Paisley Day), is in place to regulate the flow of water in the midst of a horrific drought. As they hike the fees though, a rebellion, led by the brave, muscular Bobby Strong (Richard Fleeshman) sets out to gain back their freedom.
Oh and don’t worry, they’re aware of the bad name – just one of the many brilliant insights gained from the character/narrators Officer Lockstock and Little Sally, played by Jonathan Slinger and Karis Jack respectively. This aside narrative is the real success of the musical: a unique streak of self-consciousness. But even with the invitation to laugh at the typical, eye-rolling plot devices the show does not fail to still be surprising, clever and immensely enjoyable.
Slinger is outstanding; dramatically diverse and taking control of the stage, true to his character. As are nearly the entire cast; Karis Jack’s diction does not miss a beat. Simon Paisley Day is eloquently slick and chilling, and Jenna Russell’s hunched, shrewd Penelope Pennywise is a typecast victory.
The one thing that did let it down, like a bad oat in a rich, creamy pool of porridge, was Richard Fleeshman’s Bobby Strong. Someone should tell him this isn’t The X Factor, and that his American accent sounds like a Looney Tune soup. A Looney Tune leading a revolution?
A show based on the regulation of urine and defecation does not sell itself for its gravity, but supply and demand for our ever-increasing population has forever been a real and problematic issue, and will only escalate, until that day when the world’s resources finally run out. Writers Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis have turned something horrifying and real into a musical fundamentally about urinating. And they’ve done it exquisitely.
Urinetown: The Musical is at St James Theatre until 3rd May 2014. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.
Watch the creative team talk about Urinetown here: