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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: Urinetown The Musical is sharp, funny and maybe even a tiny bit prophetic

As P3, or should I say Pee3, partnerships go, the one in Urinetown The Musical is about as crappy as this musical’s title.  But don’t let my sophomoric attempt at a joke, or the play’s unfortunate name fool you, this satire set to music is sharp, funny and maybe even a tiny bit prophetic.

As the world’s water dries up, corporations such as Urine Good Company (yes, these gems are peppered throughout) are not only controlling the drinking water, they are also controlling the water when it comes back out. In the dystopian future of Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis it is illegal to relieve oneself except in the pay-for-use toilets controlled by UGC.  Citizens who break the law are sent to Urinetown, never to return.

Along with its satire that skewers politics, made even more relevant locally as we’re in the middle of a municipal election, the musical also takes aim at some of its more famous musical theatre counterparts including Les Misérables and West Side Story.

Self-aware, it is those moments when the musical breaks down the fourth wall to poke fun at itself or others of its ilk that are some of the funniest.  David Adams and Tracey Power as Officer Lockstock and Little Sally take much of this narrative device, often with hilarious results.  The banter between them rivals the timing of even the most seasoned comedians; that they both also happen to have terrific voices is a bonus.  Power is particularly exciting to watch, but the juxtaposition of her tiny frame against Adams is priceless.

As our young hero and heroine, Anton Lipovetsky and Michelle Bardach are equally terrific together, but it is Andrew Wheeler as Caldwell B. Caldwell that is the real standout.  Wheeler, last seen at the Firehall as the Prime Minister in Proud, proves his comedic worth once again as he hams up his villainous role.  Matt Palmer seems to be channelling some sort of effeminate Pierre Trudeau as Senator Fipp with hilarious results and Meghan Gardiner has the best voice of the night as Penelope Pennywise.

Set designer Ted Roberts crams a lot into the Firehall space with his dark two-story design, while still managing to give the actors plenty of space for Tara Cheyene Friedenberg’s quirky choreography.

Director Donna Spencer, who also plays Ma Strong, keeps things moving at a furious pace although it is a little inconsistent between acts.  She also knows that the smallest of details can make a show and watching tiny nuggets of stage business became part of the fun. Her decision to not use microphones though was sometimes problematic.

Musical director Steven Charles gets the most out of the cast and his small band from Hoffman’s music, which is surprising in its sophistication despite being in a show about numbers one and two.

It is perhaps a good thing that Christy Clark and her government is so obsessed with gas right now.  Let’s hope her attention doesn’t turn to some of the more solid bodily functions.  At least, for now anyway, we can laugh at Urinetown‘s folly.

Urinetown The Musical. Music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann. Book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. Directed by Donna Spencer. A Firehall Arts Centre production. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre through November 29.  Visit for tickets and information.

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