Saturday, 17 April 2004

Urinetown , MTC, April 17, 2004

Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollmann, Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotis
by Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre,  17 April to 15 May, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 17 April

 Simon Phillips directs a cheeky, irreverent and funny production of the bladder-teasing Broadway musical hit, Urinetown.

The ensemble is skilful and adorable, the band exceptional under the musical direction of Ian McDonald and the whole is a cute parody of Broadway musicals.

During a drought, the water table is so low it is illegal to flush toilets.Caldwell B. Cladwell, (Gerry Connolly) a ruthless businessman, makes millions by compelling people to pay to use public conveniences on pain of exile.

After his father's exile to the grim, unknown Urinetown, heroic young Bobby Strong, (Kane Alexander) leads the rebellion to pee without paying. The obligatory musical romance is between Bobby and Hope, (Lisa McCune) the painfully optimistic daughter of villainous Cladwell.

Urinetown is a light-hearted, satirical jibe at government corruption and corporate greed. Nothing is taken too seriously. The vulgar title is meant to offend but the show is surprisingly inoffensive. This explains its huge Broadway success. Urinetown is stuffed full of blatant references to musical styles.

The opening number, It's a Privilege to Pee,  is pure Kurt Weil. The rebellion of the townspeople (should that be 'pee-ple'?) is a rip-off of Les Mis. There are echoes of West Side Story, Yiddish Klezmer music and a rousing gospel number, Run Freedom Run. The show constantly reminds us we are watching a musical.

Narrator, Officer Lockstock played with laconic wit by Shane Bourne, intermittently pre-empts the action with a wry aside.  He heartlessly convinces na├»ve Little Sally (Christen O'Leary) it is not a happy musical. Alexander has a powerful voice and compelling presence and McCune is the ideal sugar-sweet optimist.

Connolly is a wild, nutty villain and Rhonda Burchmore is raunchy as Miss Pennywise, the keeper of the loos. O'Leary is masterly as Little Sally and Mitchell Butel appropriately weaselly as McQueen.

Given the shows opened the same night, comparisons with The Producers are unavoidable but perhaps unfair. Who can compete with the comic genius of Mel Brooks and his unforgettable songs?

Urinetown has clever lyrics, jaunty music and an eccentric idea but the music, lyrics and book are not memorable like other musical hits.

This diverting production is beautifully directed and exuberantly performed.

LOOK FOR: The gospel chorus of Run Freedom Run.

By Kate Herbert

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