Urinetown – St James Theatre

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As our Narrator for the evening tells us with tongue firmly positioned in cheek that “nothing can kill a show like a bad title” you have to admire the hutzpah of writers Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, for this must surely be one of the least appealing titles for a musical the world has ever seen! It doesn’t seem to have stopped them flocking to see this brilliantly produced show at the tiny St James theatre though.

As slick and polished as it is though the promise made by the show’s title of something edgy, dirty and challenging is never really met by this wise cracking yet likable show. It endlessly plays for laughs and pokes fun at the musical genre in a way that gets mildly irritating after a while. There are times you feel like shouting to just get on with it.

The story mixes capitalistic greed with environmental disaster and has a clear message behind it which is never fully explored. Set in a future that is beset by drought Caldwell B Cladwell (Simon Paisley Day) has got the monopoly on the now privatised public toilets. With private facilities illegal and public peeing outlawed everyone has to pay to use his toilets. Punishment on flouting the new laws will see you sent to the fear inducing Urinetown

Not content with towing the party line toilet worker Bobby (Richard fleeshman) rouses an uprising with banners and placards that scream for their rights to ‘pee for free’. This really is power to the pee-ple! As with every good revolutionary Bobby gets side tracked by love in the form of the naïve and beautiful Hope who incidentally has the misfortune of being Cladwell’s daughter.

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Fleeshman works hard and displays his impressive pecs to please the young females in the audience but he continues to lack that something to make him a true leading man. He has little personality and his voice never quite hits the heights needed to strike some of the big notes in Hollman’s catchy score. Rosanna Hyland as Hope however is a delight. She mixes naivety with an undertone of determination. In a role that could easily become limp and annoying she sparkles and engages.

It is the older members of this ensemble piece that leave the lasting impression though. The always quality performer that is Jenna Russell looks completely at ease as the steely toilet chief with a secret Penelope Pennywise. Paisley Day as Cladwell is commanding and hangs just on the right side of deranged whilst RSC stalwart Jonathan Slinger brings a touch of menace at the same time as adding some classically trained legitimacy to something that could so easily become nonsensical.

Director Jamie Lloyd has had a lot of fun with this that is clear but at times comes across as having been a little too self-indulgent with too many in jokes and theatre side swipes. Soutra Gilmour’s grimy and functional designs overfill the small studio stage but have clearly been shoehorned in with an eye to hitting a bigger West End stage in the future.

From Les MIs style songs of revolution to punchy Gospel inspired numbers this is a show that will undoubtedly find itself a transfer and continue to send unsuspecting punters out onto the street humming its toe tappable tunes. It might not be as clever and as witty as it thinks it is but it is still fun and makes a refreshing change to see something original and a little bit different in the musical form.

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