Despite the off-putting title, a visit to Urinetown is well-worth your time especially when it is performed with as much enthusiasm and gumption as LIPA’s rousing production. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, where Steampunk aesthetic rules supreme, the unfortunate citizens of Urinetown have to pay to use the bathroom. When the philandering ultra-villain Caldwell B. Cladwell raises the pee tax in order to fund yet more ‘research teams’, a rebellion kicks off. Led by bespectacled everyman Bobby Strong, things quickly descend into madness as Caldwell’s big-hearted daughter Hope is taken hostage by the resistance. Things take a turn for the worst, but not in the way you might expect.
The power struggles between the older characters who remember the awfulness of the ominously named ‘stink years’ and the idealistic younger generation also hit very close to home with regard to the current generational divides
If this sounds a little confusing, it’s lucky we have a worthy narrator in Officer Lockstock (played completely straight by Michael Lorsong) to help guide us through this strange new world. His knowing asides to the audience and gee-whiz conversations with Little Sally were always welcome and often very funny.
In fact, the entire production is very funny. Witty dialogue and physical comedy combine to make the production thoroughly enjoyable despite the serious subject matter. Ash Matthews’s fiendishly camp Officer Barrel generates some real laugh out loud moments, while Mr Cladwell is wheeled extravagantly around stage on his office chair like a poor man’s Dr Evil. However the delicate balance of comedy and drama sometimes tipped too far. A pivotal death scene lost much of its impact when the body began to jerkily wander around the stage like a zombie, leaving the audience unsure how they should react.
One thing LIPA should be commended for is their decision to use current protest signs in the rebellion scenes. This really helped demonstrate the relevance of Urinetown to the issues society is facing today and added an additional layer of poignancy to the musical. The power struggles between the older characters who remember the awfulness of the ominously named ‘stink years’ and the idealistic younger generation also hit very close to home with regard to the current generational divides seen within our own political system. All in all there were some real moments of greatness in this production and the cast did justice to what is just an all-around brilliant piece of musical theatre.