‘Urinetown’ was potty.
In their trademark style, Crescendo Theatre Company have presented another lesser-known contemporary musical for their second offering of the year – the ever whacky, ‘Urinetown’.
‘Urinetown’ tells the tale of a young man, Bobby Strong, as he starts an uprising and accidentally leads his people to their demise. Less allegorical and more a ‘punch in the face’ storyline, the message of the piece is to conserve water and overthrow corruption. This simple message is saturated by a horrendously overcomplicated plot, loose references to other musicals and an exceptionally difficult comedy style.
Surprisingly, the piece received several Drama Desk nominations during its Off-Broadway run and won numerous Tony Awards during its Broadway season. While there are many greats in the musical satire genre, ‘Urinetown’ is a particular flavour of absurd.
Tech, set and costumes were all appropriate to the show, but possibly too safe for such an outlandish book. Lighting included a mix of LEDs and par cans used to create patterns and spotlights as needed and the set was minimal with a few simple flats creating a urinal and a brick wall. The venue was quite large and, while attempts were made to utilise the space with blocking, the set mostly felt out of place.
Adding to this issue was the use of stagehands to remove minor set pieces, creating avoidable distractions and adding little to the storytelling.
Costumes, while relevant, could have been taken further. It would have been beneficial and more fun to reflect the exaggeration and humour of the characters through their attire. The opportunity for creative freedom was endless as the period and real world locations of the plot were left ambiguous.
Sound was tinny and lacking bass throughout the show, with the entries of the band and performers often missed. Hopefully, a little more tinkering and this will polish up throughout the season.
In her directorial debut, Emma Erdis did well to cast effectively. There was the usual first-timer errors; an overuse of centre stage, an over-blocking of performers to face the audience, and some missed opportunities to reign in the ensemble. Nonetheless, Erdis injected good fun into the piece and gave opportunities to performers of all levels of ability.
Equally fresh to the production side of the stage was Jackson Poole who orchestrated the choreography for the show. Poole adds a distinct flavour of jazz-pop to his choreography but was able to incorporate some more satirical aspects to the pieces this time around. For this particular show, there was perhaps too much choreography, with full dance numbers included even during ballads. A little less may have allowed the performers more time to perfect and polish some of the bigger numbers.
In the lead role of Bobby Strong, Ryan Murphy was very impressive. With a strong stage presence, beautiful chemistry with the ensemble and good vocal ability, Murphy is one to watch. Murphy’s ‘Run, Freedom, Run!’ was the highlight of the show.
Alongside Murphy, Cameron Grimmett as Hope Caldwell was particularly engaging and equally strong in vocal and acting ability. Caldwell’s solo in ‘I See a River’ was stunning. When together, Murphy and Grimmett delivered some of the rawest and best-executed scenes of the show.
Kat McGowan as Penelope Pennywise, Micah Adamson as Officer Lockstock, and Isaac Burton as Caldwell B Caldwell were all eccentric and considered in their roles. Addisyn Herndon as Little Becky delivered some of the standout vocals of the evening, and William Thomas as Officer Barrel again showcased his fierce comedic timing.
Satire is an exceptionally challenging comedy style and requires a performer to be outlandish, do outlandish things, say outlandish lines, and all the while remain oblivious of their own ridiculousness. At times, ensemble members and leads alike fell into the trap of laughing at their own jokes and acknowledging their crazy behaviour, which lessened the humour of the scene and dampened the audience’s response.
Crescendo Theatre Company are a brave and important group for the regional theatre landscape, as they dare to produce shows that other entities overlook in favour of “big-name shows” that are presented on repeat. ‘Urinetown’ is a show with a terrible name, questionable book, and a difficult comedy style, but they’ve tackled it with community spirit, good fun and some beautiful moments.
‘Urinetown’ performs until 1st October 2022 at the Edmund Rice Cultural Centre in Toowoomba. For more information visit Crescendo Theatre Company’s website.