Urinetown**** (St James Theatre)

Posted: March 15, 2014 in Theatre


urinetowmThere have been musicals inspired by stranger things than toilets, but not many. This Broadway hit gazes into a dystopian future when, following water shortages created during the” Stink Years”, toilet usage is strictly controlled by the Urine Good Company (oops, pun already, but it’s in the script), which imposes ever increasing charges for the use of its facilities. Failure to comply means banishment to Urinetown, which we are told is a metaphysical concept (like Chinatown in the film of that name); in other words, it is a euphemism for death. What follows is an uprising by the common people against the UGC, a fable of corporate greed and ecological catastrophe. It is a show of two halves. Having set out its concept in the first scene, the writers seem to have no idea where to take it during a first half that is often trite and predictable and during which Mark Hollmann’s score is memorable only for being so unmemorable. The themes may be modern, but the style is 1950s Broadway; however, at the interval, it feels like a show that would not have survived for half a dozen performances in that era.  After the interval, the transformation is instant with Snuff That Girl and Run, Freedom, Run, two rousing ensemble numbers, both beautifully choreographed and, from then on, the show flies. Everything that was wrong about the first half is right about the second. The book by Greg Kotis and lyrics by him and Hoffman now sparkle, sickly romance is literally dumped from a great height and the entire premise on which the show seems to have been built is turned completely on its head. A company of top ranking musical theatre performers, including Jenna Russell, Jonathan Slinger and Richard Fleeshman provide real class and Jamie Lloyd’s direction ensures that the production has the vibrancy, energy and visual wit to sustain it, even through the weaker earlier scenes. Much credit must also go to Soutra Gilmour’s superb two-levelled set, which uses inner and outer revolves; it is perfectly suited to the steeply-raked auditorium of the St James. The most remarkable achievement of Urinetown is that it manages to be pessimistic, anti-heroic and anti-romantic, yet still to be filled with exuberant joy. Quite a feat.

Performance date: 14 March 2014

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