Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Urinetown - WAAPA (16 March 2015)

What a thrill to have a show grab you by the throat from the opening moments and not let go until the cast is taking well deserved bows. This is a spectacular production of a very funny and irreverent musical and I have to say, it knocked my socks off.

The tone is immediately set with a self-aware and satirical narration by Officer Lockstock (Chris Wilcox) that tells you this ain’t going to be your standard musical, my friends. Wilcox gleefully debunks and mocks the usual expectations of a musical throughout as he directly addresses the audience. He foreshadows plot points, what to expect in the 2nd act, and updates us after intermission amongst other mischief. Most of all he tells us this isn’t one of those happy musicals which is reflected in a subversive ending.

The opening number Too Much Exposition by Lockstock and the Company had me chortling away happily. We quickly learn that this is a world where you have to pay to pee and control of public urinals is strictly maintained by representatives of Urine Good Company or UGC. Most notably urinal number 9 is the province of Penelope Pennywise (Megan Kozak) and if you can’t cough up the pennies you can’t pee.

If there’s such a thing as a show stopping number in only the third song of the evening then Kozak delivers it with a stunning It’s a Privilege to Pee. With a powerhouse voice and attitude to burn as the hardened warden this is an early highlight. The show starts with a bang and quickly had me in its pocket for the crazy ride.

Of course, with such a repressive regime one needs a budding young hero. Enter Bobby Strong (Jacob Dibb) who is motivated to act after his father Old Man Strong (Morgan Palmer) is shipped off to Urinetown for peeing in public. Dibb plays the earnest hero who is told to follow his heart (warning, obligatory love interest coming up) which leads to outright rebellion, with a straightforwardness that grounds the craziness around him. He also sports a fabulous voice with Look at the Sky and Run, Freedom, Run! among others utilising it to good effect. His duet with Rosabelle Elliott Follow Your Heart was a highlight and it’s a little unfortunate there was no break in the action to allow for applause at its conclusion.

The love interest is Hope Cladwell (Elliott) who just happens to be the daughter of the architect of this draconian social and political hierarchy, Caldwell B Cladwell (Matthew Hyde). Bobby doesn’t know this at first though and their relationship goes through several, shall we say, captive moments. Elliott nicely plays the arc from bubbly innocent that can fax (and copy) to something far more formidable in the second half before suffering an unfortunate coda in the finale. Yes, it really isn’t one of those types of happy ending musicals!

Hyde gets to play the ‘evil’ head of UGC but the character has a strong rationale for his actions which allows for some texture even when he’s selling his daughter down the (metaphorical) river. Taryn Ryan gives good support as the canny street kid Little Sally who acts as a counterpoint to Lockstock’s observations as a faux second narrator of sorts. The rest of the cast play either ‘the poor’ of Bobby’s revolution or representatives of the ruling hierarchy. I liked that the beginning of the second act allowed for the ensemble to be featured with Jess Phillippi as the pregnant Little Becky Two Shoes and Daniel Ridolfi, her partner Hot Blades Harry in particular having strong moments.

Having said that the cast are uniformly excellent from the Poor’s Josephine Strong (Baylie Carson) to Kate Thomas’ Soupy Sue who has quite the amusing challenge for one of the occupants of the front row (of which no more shall be typed); to Lockstock’s sidekick Officer Barrel (Callum Sandercock) and the smarmy politician Senator Fipp (Harry Prouse). That’s because while the singing is very good indeed the choreography is simply outstanding. There is so much kinetic energy in the numbers and it is performed with such foot stomping ferocity, at times only a metre or so away if you’re in the first row. The performers were regularly in your face often imploring you for a coin or scowling as matters turned darker. At one point when Dibb offered me his hand I wasn’t sure if I was about to be hauled on stage (thankfully not!). That immediacy and intimacy was compelling.

Above all else this is very, very funny with a subversive tone that I found wonderfully appealing. The songs are great with many moments where I wanted to clap along or start bopping away. The orchestra under David King’s direction was excellent and discreetly tucked away behind the centrepiece of the grimy public urinals atop which were the UGC offices. Yes, ‘symbolism!’ All elements of performance, vocal quality, musicianship, costuming, stage, and lighting were top notch. The only slight detraction was a few technical problems with microphone pickups but, to be honest, I was so engrossed in this that it hardly mattered.

If this class announced themselves last year with Children of Eden then they just added a huge punctuation mark with Urinetown. 

A must see show with Music by Mark Hollmann, a Book by Greg Kotis with both writing the lyrics; Directed in fine style by James Millar, with David King as Musical Director and Bernie Bernard as Choreographer. It features the 3rd year musical theatre class of Jacob Dibb, Rosabelle Elliott, Chris Wilcox, Taryn Ryan, Callum Sandercock, Megan Kozak, Matthew Hyde, Harry Prouse, Heather Manley, Alex Thompson, Jess Phillippi, Daniel Ridolfi, Matilda Moran, Baylie Carson, Morgan Palmer, Kate Thomas, Joe Meldrum, Joel Granger and Tayla Jarrett. It runs until Saturday 21 March at The Roundhouse Theatre. Go see it!    

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