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Review: Urinetown The Musical at Hayes Theatre

Review by Michelle Sutton Written by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, Urinetown is a musical about a dystopian city where everyone must pay to pee, as there is a chronic water shortage and private toilets no longer exist with one wealthy corporation owning all of the public amenities. It speaks to the current climate crisis, the inaction of governments and the growing divide between the rich and the poor. Urinetown debuted on Broadway in 2001 and won several Tony Awards. It is a political satire and also makes fun of musical theatre itself, referencing many iconic musicals such as Les Misèrables, as well as popular musical theatre tropes, staging tricks and dance styles. Urinetown at Hayes Theatre is presented in association with Heart Strings Theatre Co, a theatre company based in Canberra. The show is technically excellent, at a near perfect standard I have come to expect from musicals at Hayes Theatre. The direction from Ylaria Rogers and choreography of Cameron Mitchell works extremely well together. Mitchell does a fabulous job of incorporating a myriad of iconic theatre dance styles and movements that pay homage to the musical theatre canon. Lighting and sound compliment the show perfectly, with credit due to the entire team of creatives including the lighting designer Jasmin Borsovszky, set designer Monique Langford and technical supervisor Derek Walker. Every member of the cast is extremely talented, oozing professionalism and polish. Deanna Farnell who plays Pennywise has a remarkably beautiful voice, with a tone that cuts through and very impressive range. Anytime that Farnell has a solo is a delightful highlight. Petronella Van Tienen as Hope Cladwell is another standout with amazing characterisation, consistent and thoughtful throughout the whole show and a beautiful soprano voice. Joel Horwood as Bobby Strong is a compelling and capable lead, I would love to see him perform in a role with more depth and see the layers that he could create with a more interesting character. Being aware of the buzz around Urinetown and having heard that it won Tony Awards, I entered the theatre with high expectations of a night of outrageous fun and expected to laugh the whole way through. I think I expected the show to be a different kind of funny then what it is; it is not the kind of musical that makes you belly-laugh and snort laugh and screech with your friends at the hilarity ensuing on stage, but rather it is full of clever puns and references. If you are a big fan of musical theatre then you will likely appreciate the references that are made but if you aren't you will probably not find much to laugh at. There are many half-jokes that do not reach a punchline, and even some awkward silences after there have been strained pauses for laughter. Despite the actors all giving it everything they have, and showcasing their myriad of world-class talents, Urinetown is not always engaging as it does not really include the audience in an overall theatre experience, it is more like a presentation on stage that the audience is viewing, despite the role of a narrator who speaks directly to the audience. Whilst I think Rogers does a great job of interpreting the material and directing the impeccable cast, I was disappointed in the lack of complexity and humour in the original script material. The script is written to be full of witty references, not to create empathy for and attachment to characters in the show. There is a big separation between what is happening on stage, and the audience in the seats. It is a show you feel you watch from a distance, and not a story that you get drawn into, which for me is always the most thrilling part of theatre. Urinetown The Musical is a technically fantastic production, clever and polished, however it may leave you feeling unsatisfied. The cast and crew of Urinetown should be commended for their excellent craft and commitment, the show is a wonderful showcase for the ensemble’s talents and potential. I enjoyed discovering the new talents on stage and am intrigued and excited to see what Heart Strings Theatre Company does next.

Image Credit: Phil Erbacher


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