When you think of the great musicals of recent decades, Urinetown is unlikely to be amongst them. That’s a real shame because it’s an amazing show. A true musical comedy which leaves you laughing, smiling and singing along as you leave the theatre. And yet you’ll also have been exposed to some pretty stark messages . . . about humanity . . . and our future. And that’s a sign of just how cleverly written and wonderfully crafted this show is: the underlying issues are wrapped up in so much joyous entertainment that you don’t even notice them!
Coincidentally I’d been bemoaning the fact that so many films these days are so dark. The world, I feel, has so much doom and gloom in it that the last thing I want from a cinema visit is to have the dark side of humanity thrust down my optic nerves and auditory canals. Urinetown provides a much-needed antidote to all of that. The song and dance numbers are up there with 42nd Street and the music, a wonderful range of styles and moods, has reminiscences of Les Mis.
Above all, it is a musical comedy which doesn’t take itself at all seriously. It’s a bit of a piss-take of the musical genre which anyone, like me, who’s been brought up on musicals, will readily recognize and appreciate.
First performed on Broadway in 2001, with music & lyrics by Mark Hollmann and book & lyrics by Greg Kotis, Urinetown, tells the near-future story of a town hit by draught (coming soon to a city near you?). To control the limited water supply, private toilets are banned: everyone has to use public conveniences. Throw in some political satire and, obviously, this being a musical, a romance and you have a plot that, though seemingly far-fetched, has enough truth to it to get you wondering.
The production I saw, at the Redgrave Theatre in Bristol, was an amateur one (BAOS: the Bristol Amateur Operatic Society), though you’d never have known it. All aspects of the show were excellent, from the singing quality of the leads, to chorus dance numbers and fantastic staging. There were so many superb performances and stand-out moments that it would be unfair to single out any for particular praise. They not only did themselves credit but have added another musical to my list of greats. Do go and see it if it’s comes to a theatre near you: you’ll be relieved you did!