Nominated for 9 Tony Awards and winning three of them for Best Book, Best Original Score, and Best Direction, Urinetown took Broadway by storm in the early 2000s. Cut to over 20 years later and the satirical musical has been produced by Soundworks Productions (AU), and has adapted to the Australian stage by director Mark Taylor, opening at Melbourne’s Chapel Off Chapel this week.
Having never heard of this production before, I was not sure what I was getting myself into. Upon entering the theatre, the stage appeared to have taken some COVID-19 social distancing measures to the extreme with a large plastic sheet covering the front of stage. Milk crates were stacked to form a bench and what appeared to be an outhouse in the back corner with the words “Public Amenity” in big bold letters. As the show began, words began to appear upon the plastic sheeting, introducing the audience to the show. The displayed dialogue was already making fun of itself, and I knew that I was going to be in for a mix of self-aware piss taking (pun intended) and some hilarious musical numbers.
Following the overture, two characters enter the stage and introduce the show to the eager audience. Officer Lockstock (Nathan Fernadez), and Little Sally (Chloe Halley), describe how a twenty-year drought has ravaged the town’s water supply and the notion of private toilets are simply not possible. Citizens must pay an organisation for the privilege to use a public restroom.
The UGC (Urine Good Company) are set to raise the fees that allow the public to urinate. You cannot just go behind a bush because it has been deemed illegal, and offenders are shipped off to a place only known as Urinetown and are never seen again. With the original production being set in an American town, this local adaptation is set in an outback Australian town.
I love a good comedy and greatly appreciate any production that is not afraid to mock itself and parody other productions for the sake of a laugh. Urinetown has this in spades, and I was laughing all the way thru. The musical numbers are riddled with parodies of Wicked, Les Misérables, and even Fiddler on the Roof. The nods are subtle but effective and are lovely little easter eggs for the seasoned theatre goer. Even if you have not seen these productions, the musical numbers are still incredibly catchy such as ‘Don’t Be the Bunny’ and ‘Run, Freedom Run!’.
It is no easy feat to take a Tony Award winning production and make it your own, yet Mark Taylor makes it look so easy. With Musical Director Ben Samuel and Choreographer, Sophie Loughran by his side, the trio have produced a stellar show. This is only enhanced by the costume design by Harry Gill, simple yet effective set design by Sarah Tulloch and sound and lighting by David Barrel and Aron Murray, respectively.
There is so much to love about Urinetown, and I cannot get enough of a good slapstick style comedy, but this production would not be the same without the incredible voices, acting chops and dance performances from the entire ensemble cast. The clear standouts for me were the young and innocent portrayal of Little Sally by Chloe Halley. The main hero and lovestruck Bobby Strong portrayed by Finn Alexander, who has some incredible pipes that round out his stellar performance. Quin Kelly puts on a perfectly power hungry performance as Caldwell B. Caldwell.
But it was Nathan Fernandez as the Narrator and Officer Lockstock during our performance that stole the show for me. Their comedic timing and stage presence had me hanging on every word they had to say. I could continue to go on about the entire cast, because, well, they deserve it! But you will just have to see this show for yourself to see every performance for yourself.
Not only is Urinetown an incredibly funny musical, it also carries an important undertone message about the state of our climate. To think that this production originally hit the stage in 2001 and is set on a town suffering from a twenty-year drought. Well, twenty years later and there are actual towns in Australia and around the world that have been suffering of drought for as long as this show has been around, making this production more relevant now than it was back when it started.
The idea of restricting residents from freely flushing the toilet is a sad reality for many Aussies that battle with drought every day. If we don’t do something as a society about the climate crisis soon, this farfetched narrative may just become a dystopian reality. It was a privilege to see this show about the privilege to pee.
Urinetown is performing now at Melbourne’s Chapel Off Chapel until Sunday the 6th of November.
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Photography by Benjamin Gregory, BG Group.