Yes, you read that right. Urinetown the musical. And no, I’m not taking the piss. Well, the play is – or it isn’t… okay, that’s getting a little bit complicated, so let’s take a step back.
Urinetown is set in a not-too distant future where ecological disaster has led to unimaginable droughts. The politicians and corporations have solved the problem by banning private toilets and charging- steeply- for the privilege to pee. It’s an absolutely ridiculous concept… and it works shockingly well.
The product is a sharply witty, high energy production that manages to turn toilet humour into a cutting look at environmental degradation, corruption, and the creeping spectre of fascism. As the show’s title number explains, “It’s the oldest story, masses are oppressed, faces clothes and bladders all distressed… Rich folks get the good life, poor folks get the wall; in the end it’s nothing you don’t know.”
Still not there? Well, maybe I’ll just let the narrator give you a taste:
As you might notice from that excerpt (taken from the opening monologue of the original 2001 Broadway production), Urinetown itself takes sly aim at the entire genre of broadway musicals. It joyously breaks the fourth wall (the narrator, also a character, speaks directly to you in your seats). It delights in over the top stage direction. And it hams it up wherever and whenever possible. Despite the dark undertones the songs and script are quite funny… at points I was splitting my sides in my seat. And I don’t generally enjoy musicals.
Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre is re-staging this Tony Award winning Broadway hit after giving it its Western Canadian premiere eight years ago. Directed (and featuring a small part by) Donna Spencer, the Vancouver production does the show justice. Despite a small cast (several cast members do double duty), they pull off a nearly two hour show complete with high energy, tight, clever choreography, and some pretty challenging songs.
I actually went and looked up a few YouTube videos of other productions today, before sitting down to review the show – few of them held a candle with the stage work. With small-scale resources, Firehall has managed to bring the big feel of Broadway to town.
Meghan Gardiner as Penelope Pennywise, boss of public toilet #9, particularly stands out with her powerful voice and stage presence. David Adams and Andrew Wheeler are also both notable in their respective roles as Officer Lockstock and Calwell B. Cladwell, the show’s eminent villains (and in the case of the former, the excellent narrator as well).
There were only a few rough patches, badly outweighed by the good stuff. Andrew Lipovetsky, who plays our unlikely hero (guilt-ridden toilet assistant) is commanding in his stage presence, but doesn’t match up to the singing chops of his love interest Michelle Bardach. Similarly, there were points throughout the show where certain singers taking lead were drowned out by the chorus backing them up. Overall though, it didn’t take away noticeably from the show.
From the moment this show began- with the cops literally busting in through the side door- I was hooked. Smart, funny, and serious all at once, Firehall’s Urinetown is not to be missed. You’ll be thoroughly entertained in your seat… and then maybe left thinking about some of the little seeds it plants on your way home.
You can get tickets to Urinetown online through the Firehall Arts Centre. The show runs Tuesday-Sunday, until November 29th.
Before turning to journalism, Simon dabbled in many things.
He earned an honours degree in political science, and still treats elections as if they’re the playoffs.
He nearly started a brewery, and remains a committed beer geek with a well-stocked cellar of vintage brews.
He was a cycling activist, who co-founded East Van Bike Polo and once pedalled from Amsterdam to Istanbul.
He was (okay, still is) a big ol’ nerd who loves pulp film and science fiction.
Now, he writes about these things and others. And he’s committed to bringing you one fine magazine all year long.