Urinetown the Musical

Urinetown-The-Musical-Poster-100x100

Urinetown the Musical has opened at The Apollo Theatre- I was disappointed.

Little-Sally-Karis-Jack-in-Urinetown-The-Musical-photo-Johan-Persson-300x300

Karis Jack as Little Sally in Urinetown the Musical

Urinetown is an attempt to create a disturbing piece set in a dsystopian world where, after years of drought, private toilet facilities are banned, with people forced to pay extortionate fees to use scarce and filthy amenities run by an avaricious big business firm. It is also a parody of both the traditional and Brechtian style of musical.

After Jamie Lloyd’s production enjoyed great success at St James theatre, with good reviews, I had anticipated the evening with great hope and had fully expected to enjoy it. I am sorry to say I did not.

The cast were excellent, full of energy and commitment, displaying all the high standards of requisite skills expected in a West End musical. Jenna Russell, always polished and inspirational, has a commanding presence as the miserly and unyielding Penelope Pennywise.  Rosanna Hyland and Matthew Seadon-Young are suitably attractive with lovely voices, and Karis Jack is terrific as Little Sally.
Members of the ensemble each have individual characters and moments to shine too, and the design and costumes are effective.

The problem is the piece itself. It simply lacks grounding and focus. The joke of its own self-consciousness wears thin very quickly and is, frankly, overdone. The idea of examining the Malthusian Catastrophe, where the world becomes so overpopulated that basic resources run out, and its horrible consequences, how the “good guys” can so easily become a violent mob, and the Kafka concept of right and wrong being turned on its head in an overarching faceless bureaucracy, is a good one. It could have worked.

To make it work, however, the characters need to be real, not pastiche. Just as in The Threepenny Opera, which gives inspiration to the piece, though parodied, we need to really care about the central characters, including the anti-heroes. The death of the leading man should make the audience gasp, and either change our perception or make us want to see his vindication. As it stands, even the cheering friends in the opening night audience did not really care either about his fate or the point of the story. The unrelenting “fun”, tinged with unnecessarily unpleasant violence, and the unremitting cynicism in its presentation precluded any real thought or engagement.

The music also fell short. It is fine to send up traditional musical numbers, including gospels, but there needs to be something real for the listener to grasp on to. Again, it was all pastiche, leaving the work ultimately unsatisfying.

This is a show trying to be too clever, with too many elements. It may develop a cult following, but it lacks all the true cleverness of the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, the brilliance of Kafka and the genuinely disturbing scripts and scores of Brecht and Weil.

Fiona-Jane Weston

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About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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