‘Urinetown – the musical’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by July 8, 2018

‘Urinetown – The musical’ is renowned as the tremendous musical, with the terrible name! A hysterical treat from Mark Hollman, an Illinois composer and lyricist.

Whilst still about 40, this show won him a 2002 Tony Award. Hollman learnt his musical skills as a pianist and trombonist in a rock band.

Hollman’s partner in this work is the Neo-Futurists author, Greg Kotis who wrote the original book, and the lyrics for ‘Urinetown’. As a student in 1995 Paris, Kotis was short of money had to plan his trips to the French pay toilets, and this was the seed for this opera-like presentation. The musical has received a total of ten Tony Award nominations.

This very well planned and executed two-hour play, can be seen at the Melville Theatre on the corner of Stock Road and Canning Highway in Melville. The season on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays evenings at 8.00 runs until 21st July. There is one matinée on Sunday 15th July at 2.00 pm, Booking is essential, certain to be a sell-out.

The scene: is a modern-day, filthy public toilet in a poor area of town.

The set: The auditorium floor, immediately in front of the stage, is covered with the domestic detritus of several typical garages. The proscenium arch is formed with 930 toilet rolls (in 6 rows) up and around the normal arch – the designer, Craig Griffen, and constructers must have been a little potty by the end. As though this task was not hard enough, each roll also had a gold light globe in the centre, illuminated for the scenes of wealth. A huge amount of work but MOST effective. The set builders included the cast, especially Kai Thorpe, Daniel Burton, Audrey Hall, Craig Griffen, along with Thomas Hall, Coby Pearce, Arrn Obar, and Anne Semple.

A set of grey columns and a cash desk were the entrance to the dank, subterranean loo.

The plush owner’s office had an oil portrait hanging on the dark wall above his shelves of precious water bottles. Centre on the rear wall, was a most realistic lift, with sliding doors. The smart looking, space-age secretaries sat on office chairs, each with an illuminated, built in i-pad holder. The props were supplied by

Craig Griffen, who was aided by Erin Craddock. Kai Thorpe and Craig Griffen devised the humorous and clever special effects.

     The split-second, top quality lighting design was by Daniel Burton and Craig Griffen; it comprised mainly narrow beam spotlights, picking out the performers in a smoky dim light.

     This very slick show was tech managed by Daniel Burton and well stage managed by Jarrett Hope.

     The sound design was by Daniel Burton, then Vlad Sturdy operated and mixed the headsets and sound effects.

 

         The audience receive a grim welcome from the narrator, Lockstock (Bert Goldsmith), a police officer in charge of uncovering guilty pee-ers. Lockstock was aided by a scruffy ragamuffin, Little Sally (Erin Craddock) who is actually an intelligent but irreverent teenager.

         A twenty-year drought has caused a severe water shortage, with the result that the privately run, public toilets are in filthiest in town. They are operated by the ‘Urine Good Company’ who charge the public ever increasing fees to use them. There are punitive laws for poor people who urinate anywhere else. The offenders are sent to a penal colony called Urinetown, never to be seen again.

       The bladder troubled, but impecunious, people queue at the poorest, filthiest urinal in town – Public Amenity #9. They are being encouraged to revolt by Tiny (Emily Semple). The toilet block is supervised by the heartless, despotic, and weary, Penelope Pennywise (Shanee Osborne), a person with a major secret. Her main janitor is the self-assured young Bobby Strong (Kai Thorpe).

       One day, when Bobby’s defiant father, Old Man Strong (Daniel Burton) could not afford his urinal admission fee, he asks Pennywise to let him “just this once” free of charge. When refused, he urinates in the street and is arrested by Officers Lockstock and Barrel (Liam Gobbert). He is escorted away to Urinetown.

      Later that day, at the corporate offices of Urine Good Company, is the evil president and owner, Caldwell B. Cladwell (Daniel Burton) a miserly money-grabber who has happily exploited the poor. He is discussing his new fee hikes with Senator Fipp (Ellie Hart-Peterson), a corrupt politician ‘in his pay’. Cladwell’s enchantingly beautiful daughter, Hope (Grace Johnson) arrives to work as the fax/copy girl. The office staff sing a song in praise of their chief.

         Hope meets Bobby who is still distraught over his father’s arrest. She tells Bobby that the only answer is to follow his heart, he does, and they fall in love. The two decide they both want to work together for a new world, where the general public can have a free pee.

        When Little Sally asks Officer Lockstock what Urinetown is actually like, he gives a flippant reply. The next day, Cladwell’s devious assistant, Mr. McQueen (Harry Stacey), who will do anything to save himself, suggests new fee hikes. Bobby learns that Hope is Cladwell’s daughter and Little Becky Two-Shoes (Audrey Hall) explains her Urinetown theory. Bobby and his strong-willed mother Josephine (Laurene Coller) hand out fliers to the other janitors in hope that they will join them in a revolution.

         Can the revolution possibly win?

 The highly talented director, Craig Griffen was aided by Geoff Leeder. The result was a very slick show, with a tight link between the acting, choreography, lighting, and sound. It was run with military precision. Rarely can one person take over so many aspects of a show, but Craig and Daniel both proved to be the exceptions.

Musical director and conductor Taui Pinker was with the musicians tucked away at the side of the stage, they comprised a double bass (Christian Ingram), reeds (Wayne Griffiths), percussion (Luke Casserly) and brass (Warren Bracken), they provided a well-balanced accompaniment. The music had the big band sound. The singers were all of a very high standard, with the range from the mellifluous tones of Grace (Hope) to the powerful, yet tuneful delivery of Shanee (Penelope). On quite a few occasions the head and body movements were precisely linked to musical phrases and sound effects.

As the costume designer, Craig Griffen created the perfect costumes for the characters, and then added his own little touch. The secretaries had lime green wraparound sunglasses and black dresses, then when the rich owner arrived, half a dozen dancing girls wearing swimsuits made of ‘money’ appeared carrying fans constructed with wads of dollars instead of feathers to perform their routine. The outfits were mainly supplied by the cast, with supervision of any alterations and sewing by Emily and Anne Semple.

Now as choreographer, Craig Griffen along with his superb dance captain, Grace Johnson, gave us a huge range of dancing. The genres included a military step, the Horah with strains of Hava Nagila to Klezmer music (Hasidic Nigun), Evangelistic praise, gliding chairs, sliding columns, and even a Busby Berkeley inspired wheel rotation. Immaculately rehearsed and presented.

This is a very professional show, great acting, beautiful singing, clever teching and a hilarious, dry humour script, perfectly delivered. An absolute joy.

With no fourth wall, the audience becomes part of the cast, and the narrator chats to us. Now that the word is getting around, this show will be sold out in days.