A Review of Urinetown
by Mike Bryant
I'm not going to beat around the bush; when it comes to Urinetown (the show itself, not this individual production) I am not a fan.
Now, don't get me wrong, I like toilet humour (tee-hee. Toilet) as much as the next fellow, maybe more, but I just never managed to wrap my head around this show. However, that didn't stop me from having a bladder-bursting good time at the Stagecraft production currently playing at the Gryphon Theatre.
That sentence was very nearly literal. If you go to see Urinetown, don't make my mistake and over indulge on the water beforehand. There is a lot of talk about urination and towards the end of the first act... well... let me just say that it was not a comfortable experience, dear reader.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into the theatre was the set. And what a set it is. Illuminated to gloomy perfection by lighting designer David Heaphy, Anna Rowe's set design is striking and effective. When I read in other reviews that the set was the reviewer's favourite part of a show, I assume it's a cheap pot-shot at the other aspects of said production, but the set really WAS my favourite part of Urinetown, and seeing as everything else was pretty solid, that's no small feat. I don't want to describe the set for you, because I don't want to take that experience away from potential audience members, but suffice to say that I've worked in the Gryphon Theatre many times over the years and I have never seen it look anything like this.
The show starts with Officer Lockstock (Daniel Pooley) and Little Sally (Gemma Revell) lamenting the fact that a bad title and "too much exposition" can very quickly kill a show. Pooley is one of my favourite people to watch onstage, due to his wild-eyed mania which never fails to draw my eye, so it was a pleasant surprise to find an actor who can match him as exquisitely as Revell, and the recurring moments between these two characters became my favourite parts of the show. (Side note. I've never met her at all, but can someone please cast Revell as Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods? If she hasn't done it already.)
In fact, the entire cast throw themselves into their roles with a huge amount of gusto, whether a lead or part of the ensemble. Of particular note for me were Wellington theatre icon Jane Keller as Miss Pennywise, who takes the lead in my favourite song "A Privilege to Pee" and Footlights whanau member Kenneth Gaffney, who shines in the seemingly written-for-him role of Bobby Strong, filling the hero with a winning combination of sweetness and steel bravery. And, of course, Ange Bickford whom I couldn't take my eyes off (which also applies to how I feel about her in real life because, damn, that woman is beautiful, crazy talented and constantly making me question my sexuality.) Bickford plays the role of Josephine Strong who, in the hands of someone less skilled, could be the sort of character that could easily fade into the background, but Bickford makes every single moment count and turned Mrs. Strong into my favourite character of the piece.
But, as far as I'm concerned, the show well and truly belongs to Kira Josephson who plays the faxing (and copying) lead female Hope. I honestly cannot remember the last time I was so charmed in a theatre production. Josephson managed to emphasise the realistic qualities of a very cartoon-y character and, although I'm always the sort of audience member that roots for the villains, I was geuninely hoping all of her dreams would come true at the end. And her voice! That voice! Hearing her and Gaffney sing "Follow Your Heart" was a revelation in everything a romantic comedy duet should be.
My only major quibbles with this production are probably verging on the pedantic. The lighting, which started the show off with just the right mood, became a trifle dark for my taste, to the point where I struggled to make out the expressions on a lot of the character's faces. I also feel like the show would have benefited from clearer diction. At points I had a struggle catching lyrics and dialogue from the chorus.
Overall, this is an extremely solid production and a thoroughly enjoyable night out with some of the most talented performers in the Wellington musical theatre scene. I definitely recommend getting along to see it.
Urinetown runs until September 24th at the Gryphon Theatre.
TIckets are available at https://www.iticket.co.nz/events/2016/sep/urinetown-the-musical