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 The Theatreguide.London Review

St James Theatre Spring 2014; Apollo Theatre Winter 2014

This musical, a Broadway hit a few seasons back, is very clever, very silly, very much aware of its own cleverness and very entertaining, and the best way to respond to it is to leave your critical faculties at the door and just go along with its own enjoyment of itself. 

The setting, particularly unlikely for a musical (as we're repeatedly reminded), is a dystopian future in which water is running out, private toilets are an unallowable luxury, and one company has a monopoly on public conveniences and charges high fees for their use, keeping any grumblers in check with the threat of banishment to the even worse place of the title.

But one young man starts a rebellion, inspired by the love and idealism of his girl, who is (of course) the daughter of the head of the toilet-running company. 

Will the revolution triumph? Will the baddies be vanquished and everyone be able to pee freely and the boy and girl live happily ever after? As a matter of fact, not everything will go according to Broadway musical convention, and the show will take particular delight in pointing that out. 

That's because Urinetown is frequently less about water shortages and pay toilets than it is about Broadway musicals. 

One of the junior baddies doubles as narrator, wittily calling our attention to every time they have to follow the formula and every time they break with it. The musical numbers all subtly and slyly reference other musicals, from Les Miserables back through Sweeney Todd, Sweet Charity, How To Succeed and West Side Story. 

So Urinetown's creators (book and lyrics by Greg Kotis, music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann) are very much aware of the Broadway musical's heritage and conventions, and pay us the respect of assuming we are as well, and can enjoy their messing around as much as they do. 

The songs are good Broadway pop, the staging by Jamie Lloyd and choreography by Ann Yee are smooth and witty, and the whole thing just bounces along on the high energy and infectious fun of the cast. 

The romantic leads Richard Fleeshman and Rosanna Hyland are fine but almost inevitably overshadowed by the more colourful chief baddie of Simon Paisley Day and assistant baddie and narrator of Jonathan Slinger, with Karis Jack registering as a comically precocious street urchin.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Urinetown - St James Theatre 2014