I'm a children's book author, radio presenter of 'By the Book' for Radio Northern Beaches, and freelance writer. Check out www.brydiewright.com for more about
Brilliant Musical With A Pee-culiar Name
Every so often a musical comes along that makes a bold statement and has a great score to match. Tony Award-winning Urinetown is one of them. It's a delight to see a local theatre company with the nouse to take the production on and the wherewithal to pull it off.
From 15 – 23 September at The Zenith Theatre in Chatswood, Director Kenney Ogilvie and the Mosman Musical Society invite you on a journey to a dystopian world, in a satirical musical comedy. I encourage you to move past the awkward name and take it.
Urinetown (pronounced Your-in) has chosen a seemingly ridiculous premise for a morality tale, which is disturbingly close to the bone. It's administered in a sugar-coated pill, parodying the great American musicals of our time and lampooning corporate greed and a corrupt political and legal system. Sound familiar? This musical has multiple postmodernist layers if you choose to analyse them but it won't stop you from enjoying a genuinely funny, entertaining and surprising night of theatre.
The musical by Mark Hollmann, based on a book and lyrics by Greg Kotis, is set in a 'fictional' world suffering from ecological disaster. A water crisis means that its citizens pay the corporate overlord, the Urine Good Company, a fee, to pee. With increasingly volatile conditions, a brave hero (toilet amenity supervisor Bobby Strong), rises and leads the downtrodden masses in a Les Mis-style parody revolution. Like any good musical though, the hero must have a love interest and it just so happens to be the evil overlord's daughter, the saccharine sweet Hope. Will these star-crossed lovers save the day? Will their love triumph in the spectre of the ominous Urinetown? This is a dystopian satire, so anything can happen.
Though perhaps little known to Australian theatre audiences, it's a big task to take on a musical with Broadway pedigree. Kenney Ogilvie, Musical Director David Lang and Choreographer Lisa Suleiman, don't shy from it. This is a stellar production by a local theatrical society. It's slick, with some major star turns from a beautifully-gelled ensemble cast. Urinetown's dialogue and lyrics are smart and draw heavily on a rich tradition of cheesy, yet crowd-pleasing Americana. The Mosman Musical players have done their research and have a profound sense of the genres they are parodying and almost flawless comic timing (and American accents), throughout.
For me, standouts were the commanding, Machiavellian performance from Kyle Masson as the Narrator, who gives the play its meta construct (i.e. makes frequent references to the fact that we are in a musical). Emma Caldwell, as the highly astute Little Sally, is also a scene stealer and provides some of the best moments of comedy and insight. The lead roles are cleverly cast, with powerful performances from Daniel O-Connell as Bobby Strong and Rebecca Carter as Hope Caldwell. Both have professional quality voices and great talents for dramatic irony. Watch this space as there is a huge amount of potential in this young cast. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of them.
And what about the music, I hear you ask? Going to see a musical you don't know, is a gamble. Drawn out, boring songs can make the experience almost unbearable. This does not apply here. Urinetown pleasantly surprised me with a memorable musical refrain, catchy songs and lively choreography, which capitalises on well-loved theatrical dance styles.
Act One of the show is particularly strong with laughs a minute and excellent character and plot development. As with most musicals, the Second Act has almost too much work to do, heightening the tension and resolving more serious themes but holistically, this musical and this performance, is a satisfying experience… and thought-provoking. Once you've been to Urinetown, you won't forget it in a hurry and may never again underestimate your right to pee for free. Just what does our user-pay future hold?