In these days of musical bios, jukebox shows and false sentiment, Urinetown is a breath of fresh air. It’s got a witty story, gutsy songs and the slight edge of an environmental message. Best of all, it doesn’t take itself seriously.
Urinetown was written by two Broadway outsiders who send up all the conventions of the great American musical tradition before them.
It’s set in a city so crippled by water shortages that private toilets are banned and all public facilities controlled by the Urine Good Company, owned by the wicked Caldwell B. Cladwell (Gerry Connolly). It’s A Privilege To Pee sing the restless poor as they queue to pay their penny to the vampish Rhonda Burchmore, who manages the outfit.
It’s a Dickensian world, played out on a multi-tiered set of scaffolding and empty pipes. Housed up there is a vaguely eastern European band, giving a Brechtian cosmetic to the melodies of composer Mark Hollman.
Other music inspirations are Broadway anthems, Yiddish folk and gospel, all synthesised into the snap and crackle of American popular music.
Amongst the gloom of this futuristic police state is the na? heroism of Bobby Strong (David Campbell). He swells into full romantic lead when he meets Cladwell’s ditzy daughter, Hope, played delightfully blonde by Lisa McCune.
The two romantics mock everything from Julie Andrews and Marilyn Monroe to the Titanic. The poor chorus follows on perplexed, staring puzzled out to the upper circle as Campbell calls them to the barricades of freedom in a performance fitting of Les Mis?bles.
Collette Mann is just one of the streetwise citizenry who give fine satirical performances, each with their own personality and choreographic distinction.
Keeping them in line is Shane Bourne as a droll New York cop, who doubles as our narrator -“ often with comment on what works best in the structure of musicals.
Director Simon Phillips crams Urinetown with stage business and any arch idea to steal or send up something, but somehow it stays on track.
To effectively mock the Broadway tradition, this musical requires an exact capturing of that New York energy, twang and machine gun delivery -“ from which that tradition began. Phillip’s skilful cast doesn’t quite make that, but their efforts make for lots of laughs.
A Melbourne and Sydney Theatre Company production, Urinetown is at the Sydney Theatre until 15 July.