When I was in High School, we presented a production so ‘edgy’ that we had to change the title, so as to not offended the general public as they walked past the large promotional boards the school would put up outside. That show was Urinetown (or ‘You’re In Town’ as we were geared to believe it was actually titled’). First staged in 2001 and written by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, Urinetown is a comedy that satirises just about everything – social values, politics, populism, bureaucracy, the legal system, and even Broadway musicals themselves. It focuses on a time when going to the bathroom is controlled by those in high places, and those without the money to pay to relieve themselves are sent to the ominous ‘Urinetown’ to be punished. The book is incredibly funny, relying mostly on the audience reflecting on the state of the world they live in, and recognising the humour behind it. And, somewhat unfortunately, there certainly is a lot of humour to be recognised.
Waterdale’s production of this rarely performed crowd favourite was rather hit and miss. It was clear that there was a strong vision behind the piece, and every intention to breathe a fresh life into it, however the execution of these ideas seemed to fall a little short and found the vision only somewhat fulfilled. For example, adding in screens a la 1984/Big Brother was a cool aesthetic touch and framed the set quite well, however their ongoing use throughout the show actually came across as rather clunky and distracting. In saying this, one time that it was particularly effective was when the team had created a kids tv commercial, urging them to tattle on their parents. It felt very Humphrey Bear, only if Humphrey was a big toilet. This addition was really quite engaging and opened a whole new can of worms. Had there been less switching between images and video on these screens throughout, this moment could have had a much bigger impact. Moreover, while this addition did work quite well, there were several other instances that ‘new bits’ were added in for humour. Whether these bits were ad lib or actually directed, it happened far too often. The book is already hilarious and really did not seem to flourish with the constant ‘trying to be funny’ thing going on. It certainly felt a little forced when it really didn’t have to be.
In terms of sound and lighting, these too were hit and miss. The sound quality seemed to waver, with several cues being missed and volume being an option at times. Lighting was very lacklustre and transitions between cues were incredibly slow. The best lighting choice of the show involved a black stage and the cast using torches to send out white beams.
Musical direction was generally very tight and certainly set the vibe very well. The band, while very talented, were sat on the stage which seemed a little odd for this particular show. At times, the musicians, while seated with their instruments, would join in with the goings on around them. While it is understood that this too could be reflective of the satire of Broadway musicals (particularly since they were dressed so nicely in juxtaposition to the rags worn by the ‘poor’ cast) when musicians are watching the show from on stage, and then reacting to thing with very little commitment, simply because they are not there to act and probably lack confidence in doing so, it does take away from the cast and their efforts to develop a cohesive unit (especially when some are obviously more into it than others).
Choreography was very simple and very achievable for the cast. Because of this, it would have been great to see a little more energy in the dance numbers and a greater commitment to executing these movements with strength and verve. If complacency was born from the level of dance required of them, it would have been really awesome to see some more technical stuff thrown in the mix to for a challenge capable of producing that ‘wow’ factor.
Sam Marzden’s ‘Officer Lockstock’ was certainly a hit with the audience. Interestingly, whether a directorial note or Marzden’s own doing, his accent was quite different to Lockstock’s of past, and while humourous as points, became a little trying. The strength in Marzden’s performance was almost definitely the physicality of the character, as well as his very funny facial expressions and comedic timing. The zany accent very nearly detracted from the very funny writing of this character. His interactions with Imogen Whittaker were often the funniest.
Whittaker, who played ‘Little Sally’ certainly looked the part. Unfortunately, much of what she said was lost in volume and lack of articulation. Whittaker’s performance could have also been strengthened by becoming a little more animated and bigger with the character. From the middle of the audience, most of her facial expressions and physicality seemed almost non-existent. A highlight of Whittaker’s performance was her energy when part of the ensemble, when ‘Little Sally’ was not the focus.
Kirsty Nisbet played a very butch, working class ‘Miss Pennywise’. It seemed a little odd that she would be dressed the same as Bobby and be working in the amenity herself rather than delegating. It certainly changed the dynamics and lessened the difference in status between Miss Pennywise and those of Amenity 9. This also lessened the power she had over them, as she really came across as ‘one of them’. Kirsty’s performance of this direction however was quite strong, it just meant that the transition between heartless tyrant and freedom fighter wasn’t very poignant as the jump wasn’t very large.
Dean Mitchelmore’s ‘Cladwell’ didn’t really entice a ‘love to hate’ relationship with the audience as seems necessary for the character’s development. Like Whittaker, much of Mitchelmore’s physicality, facial expressions and dialogue seemed to become lost once it reached the middle of the audience, calling for a larger, more animated performance that would allow for more obvious contrasts in character. His interactions with Sarah Cuthbert’s ‘Hope’, however, seemed very genuine and were well received.
Cuthbert was certainly a highlight. Her innocence, charisma and overall demeanour were perfect for Hope. Her vocals were very impressive and a joy to listen to. Particularly impressive was her ability to stay in character and maintain her energy and commitment to the role as she was tied to a chair with a gag in her mouth for much of Act 2. She was a real stand out and a real pleasure to watch on stage, especially opposite Nathan Wright who played leading man ‘Bobby Strong’.
The strength in Wright’s Bobby was his amazing voice. His effortless execution of each number was just beautiful and a real treat. It was also great to have him contribute to some of the full cast numbers, as his voice really added substance to the male vocal parts, which is unfortunately often what falls short in amateur theatre due to the eternal struggle to find male performers.
The ensemble as a whole were generally very cohesive, but were not entirely consistent in terms of energy throughout the piece. While it is understood that the whole vibe of this show involves a group of people who are ‘down and out’, it is still theatre and holding back energy, as opposed to channelling it differently, often just results in a very under done feel to the show. A shoutout must be given to Ahila Navaratnam (‘Little Becky Two Shoes’) who was a real ball of energy throughout and really set the standard. It is anticipated that as the run continues and opening weekend jitters are a thing of the past that this very capable cast will rise to the occasion.
As Waterdale heads into its closing weekend, consider grabbing a ticket to a hilariously written show that is too rarely performed.