Urinetown: The Musical

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

17/11/2007 - 22/12/2007

Production Details

By Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis
Director – Catherine Downes
Musical Director – Tim Solly
Dance Choreography – Lyne Pringle

Don’t let the title put you off! Urinetown The Musical is a must-see laugh a minute treat.

A Gotham- like town somewhere, fantastical, yet strangely familiar.  After twenty years of drought, private toilets have been outlawed and people may only relieve themselves in public facilities – spend a penny to spend a penny. Where there’s muck these’s brass, it seems, but the poor revolt, led by lantern-jawed idealist, Bobby Strong who’s conviction is that no one ought to have to pee at someone else’s convenience.

There’s an inevitable complication to this story of money and rebellion; Bobby is in love with the optimistically naive Hope Cladwell, who just happens to be the daughter of the man who owns every convenience in town.

Subversive and sassy, Urinetown brilliantly satirises the kind of ecological crises which are destined to dominate the 21st century. At the same time, it pokes cheerful fun at all the clichés of Broadway musicals, whilst cashing in on their best bits. You’ve got to go!

‘Urinetown is hilarious, simply the most galvanizing theatre experience in town.’ New York Times

What kind of musical is this? Fresh, unique, original, impudent, colourful, exciting, irreverent, surprising and wonderful that’s all.’ The New York Observer

Best Book of a Musical 2002 Tony Award
Best Original Score 2002 Tony Award

Best Lyrics 2001 Obie Award

Outstanding Broadway Musical 2002 Outer Critics’ Circle Award

Outstanding Musical 2002 Lucille Lortel Award 

17 Nov – 22 Dec

Performance Times
Monday – Thursday 6.30pm
Friday & Saturday 8pm
$25 Shows Fri 16 & Tue 20 Nov
Matinees Sat 24 Nov 2pm, Sat 1, 8, 15 Dec 4pm

FREE Post Show Talkback
Monday 19 Nov

Premium $43
Premium concession/groups 8+ $35
Members $34
Students $30/$20 2hr standby
Preview $25
School parties $15 per person
Children under 12 yrs $10
Restricted view seats available for all performances.

Book at Downstage Theatre on 04 801 6946 or email bookings@downstage.co.nz .

Cladwell B. Cladwell/Hot Blades Harry - George Henare
Penelope Pennywise  - Rima Te Wiata    
Lockstock  - Jason Kennedy
Little Sally - Brooke Williams
Bobby Strong  - Kristian Lavercombe
Hope Cladwell - Amy Straker
Officer Barrel/McQueen/Soupy Sue  - Carmel McGlone
Little Becky Two Shoes/Cladwell's Secretary/Cop  - Julie O'Brien
Fipp/Old Man Strong/ Robby The Stockfish/Cop   - Ben Fransham
Josephine Strong/Mrs Millenium  - Helen Moulder
Tiny Tom/ Dr Billeaux/Cop  - Martyn Wood

Set Designer - Brian King
Lighting Designer - Ulli Briese 
Costume Designer - Zoë Fox

Piano  - Tim Solly
Drums  - Richard Wise
Wind - Blair Latham

Stage Manager - Thomas Press
Production Manager - Ross Joblin/Simon Rayner
SX Operator - Marc Edwards
LX Operator - Sam Downes
Follow Spot Operator - Ratty
Publicity - Brianne Kerr Publicity
Production Photography - Stephen A'Court
Set Construction - John Hodgkins, Iain Cooper

Theatre , Musical , Comedy , Dance-theatre ,

2 hrs 20 mins, incl. interval

Funny send-up and gutsy performances

Review by Melody Nixon 03rd Dec 2007

A gaudy, vibrant and somewhat cynical script gave the Downstage cast and crew of Urinetown plenty to play with opening night. A show that could tentatively be labeled as shabby postmodern, Urinetown is a pastiche of hit Broadway musicals, from A Christmas Carol and West Side Story to Fiddler on the Roof.

The Urinetown performers make the most of a genre that perhaps does not come naturally to New Zealand audiences, and content that has various aspects of discomfort and social taboos attached to it. Being in Delhi has helped me to put in context the subject matter of the show however – a city full of people peeing in public doesn’t exist only in the futuristic fantasies of writer Greg Kotis. Kotis’ view of the anarchic city take over by bleeding-hearts poor people is wry and sharp, if laced with pessimism about idealistic goals and solidarity.

The characters of Lockstock (Jason Ward Kennedy) and Little Sally (Brooke Williams) – a smart, all-seeing girl reminiscent of A Christmas Carol’s Tiny Tim – provide a seam of self-referential chatter that is the basis of the show’s most successful moments of humour. Brooke Williams fills the shoes of Little Sally with plenty of delicate charm, without being overly cutesy. In a much tighter fit than her previous role of Laurie in I’m not Rappaport, the singing, dancing frivolity of Urinetown does much more to display Williams’ ability and appeal.

Jason Ward Kennedy shines bright as the rough-edged policeman Lockstock. He appears so fully at ease with the exaggerated performing that he relaxes the audience and no doubt the rest of the cast with his confidence and level tone. However Julie O’Brien’s singing voice lacks strength and muster, and despite her apt facial expressions O’Brien does not add much to her roles, that of Cladwell’s Secretary being the exception. And George Henare as the evil scrooge Cladwell took some time on opening night to embed himself in the show, once or twice letting his trademark warble surface when it shouldn’t have. Henare could be much more excitingly sinister and evil in this role, and his performance drags due to the slow pace and seeming lack of energy.

Appropriately it was the young would-be lovers, Hope Cladwell (Amy Straker) and Bobby Strong (Kristian Lavercombe) who formed the most colourful and entertaining thread of the show, pulling the story along through sometimes tedious and repetitious scenes. Straker’s voice was perfectly tuned to the range of notes her piece demands, hitting the high ones with especial panache. Relative newcomer Lavercombe captured the highly stylised essence of the West Side Story-like Bobby with a competent, fierce and jutting pride, and convincing big-heartedness.

The show’s mocking finale displays more of writer Kotis’ deep cynicism for human nature than an insightful or inspiring commentary – it’s the kind of ‘people are so messed up’ ending that makes you feel good. There are elements of quite funny send-up though, and the almost-twist at the end is delightful. Urinetown would definitely appeal more to those who find release and entertainment in musicals. For those generally unmoved by the genre, its gutsy performances and self-referential humour might just be enough for a fun, light night out.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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Energetic direction and performances

Review by Lynn Freeman 22nd Nov 2007

There could be few less appealing titles for any kind of performance than Urinteown – but within a few minutes of the show starting, you learn that is kind of the point. This is a musical gently poking fun at the genre rather than launching an all out attack.  It’s been huge in the US, winning two Tony Awards and an Oliver Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Broadway Musical. I suspect that production had a much bigger budget, bigger stage and more pizzazz, but Downstage has done an excellent job and pulled out all the available stops, including a cast of 11 hard working, dancing and singing actors.

To give you a story line would, as with most musicals (and operas for that matter), kill it stone dead.  Briefly, there has been a drought for 20 years, water is an unaffordable commodity, you can’t go to the loo in your own home but have to pay a sinister private company (you’re in good company – think about it) to use their public amenities, and the prices just keep going up.  The poor revolt (a mini Les Miserables), they are persuaded not to kill their hostage (think gospel), Bobby who’s the leader of the pack falls for Hope, the evil company owner’s daughter (think Grease), but living happily ever after is not guaranteed.

Every opportunity for toilet humour is flushed out, the head of police acts as narrator, providing some (but not too much) exposition and reminding us that this is indeed a musical so Act One must end in such a way, and the finale will have everyone up and dancing etc. 

The premise is cute, even appealing, but doesn’t sustain a couple of hours, despite energetic direction and performances.  It’s saved by some terrific star turns, George Henare is absolutely in his element as nasty Caldwell B. Caldwell, Rima Te Wiata relishes the Penelope Pennywise who has a heart of gold under her tough exterior, an Kristian Lavercombe is charm on legs as the hero of the story, Bobby Strong.  Jason Ward Kennedy totally nails the part of the Lockstock, the cop, and as Little Sally, Brooke Williams is a delight. 

The whole cast work well as an ensemble, dressed stunningly by Zoë Fox, choreographed with vigour by Lyne Pringle, and running up the stairs and down the scaffolding of Bryan King’s usefully compact set.


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Odd but endearingly bizarre

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 19th Nov 2007

The narrator of Urinetown: the Musical, Officer Lockstock (Jason Ward Kennedy), who is also the bullying henchman of city boss Caldwell B. Cladwell, tells Little Sally (Brooke Williams), a cutesy beggar girl (think Les Miserables), that she is too young to understand but nothing kills a show like too much exposition. She responds with "How about bad subject matter? Or a bad title?" Urinetown is the sort of knowing theatrical spoof that not only boasts a bad title and unusual subject matter but it also has far too much exposition, which is, in fact, its weakness as its theatrical foolishness doesn’t really take off until the second half.

The plot is, not surprisingly, simple: there is a drastic shortage of water in a city that might be New York and private toilets are prohibited. "Public amenities" that everyone has to use are controlled by a greedy and corrupt corporation run by Cladwell. He keeps raising the prices (cue for song: It’s a privilege to Pee), until the poor, dressed in chic grunge by Zoë Fox, revolt under the leadership of hero Bobby Strong. Caldwell has a beautiful daughter, Hope (Amy Straker), and before you know it Bobby and Hope are singing Follow Your Heart. Hanging over them or any citizen is the threat of being sent to Urinetown, an Orwellian hellhole.

The show keeps reminding us that the world is clearly headed for hell in a hand basket, but it also keeps reminding us that it is only a musical and musicals are usually all about being positive and uplifted (the finale I See a River is wonderfully over-the-top uplift) even if unpleasant things happen in it and the world. It’s a cynical show that is cynical about everything including itself.

Cathy Downes and her large and marvelous cast, supported by Tim Solly’s three man band, put over the parodies with terrific zest and show-biz pizzazz. Kristian Lavercombe as Bobby not only sings and dances better than most leading men but he also does the comedy with style, while George Henare doubles as the evil Cladwell and for one riotous, outrageous song, Snuff that Girl, as an ageing hippie.

An odd but endearingly bizarre choice for a Christmas-time show. 


Jules November 19th, 2007

Whoops John! Wrong review... should be under Urinetown.

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Feel-good comfort stop with a message

Review by John Smythe 18th Nov 2007

It’s a piss-take, pure and simple: of user-pays economics gone mad at one extreme and socialist idealism at the other. On the way it gets more gutsy around the moral dilemmas thrown up by revolutionary uprisings.

Urinetown is also a piss-take of musical clichés and a celebration of musical genres, delivered by a dream-team of 11 actor-singer-dancers (playing 22 roles) and a brilliant trio (piano, percussion and woodwinds), all socking it to 18 mostly big numbers.

The premise is that following a drought and ‘The Stink Years’, the government has privatised all public conveniences, sold them off to UGC (the Urine Good Company) and passed laws making it illegal to own private toilets or pee in public. And defecate, of course, although that’s only mentioned once (a coyness which is typical of mainstream American entertainment).

Anyone who breaks this law is ‘disappeared’ to ‘Urinetown’, about which little is known so it now has mythical status. Think Siberia or Guantanamo before the lids were lifted off those horror holes. Indeed, without giving too much away, ‘the long-drop to end all long-drops’ would pretty well sum it up.

George Henare excels as the suave and ruthless capitalist Caldwell B. Cladwell, with a staff of stylish sycophants – notably Carmel McGlone in a Cher wig and posh accent – all clad extremely well by Zoë Fox, whose costume designs throughout are superb. As Daddy’s little girl Hope, Amy Straker is delightfully innocent in both her loyalty to her father and her social idealism. And Ben Fransham is marvellously craven and tormented as Fipp, the corrupted politician.

The main instrument of Cladwell’s despotism is Officer Lockstock who is also the show’s narrator and played with great authoritative charm by Jason Ward Kennedy. The only person not cowed by his uniform and long baton is streetwise waif Little Sally – brought to life with intelligent wit by Brooke Williams – who becomes his philosophical sparring partner.

In Brian King’s excellent split-level set, lit by Ulli Briese, the rusty-walled lower depths mostly represent (in Act One) the scungy Public Amenity #9 where the desperate-to-go poor people are obliged to queue with their coins. It is presided over by flame-haired Penelope Pennywise – Rima Te Wiata in fantastic form – who claims she’s just doing her job and has pressures of her own to contend with. Her fresh-faced assistant Bobby Strong is energetically realised by Kristian Lavercombe whose lithe limbs, cool moves and strong voice make him the ideal leading man.

The line-up at Penny’s iron gate includes Little Sally, Old Man Strong (Fransham), his wife Josephine (Helen Moulder), Soupy Sue (McGlone), Little Becky Two Shoes (Julie O’Brien) and Tiny Tom (Martyn Wood). Superb actors and singer all, each has moments to shine and as an ensemble they are more than equal to Lyne Pringle’s challenging and exuberant choreography.

McGlone also plays a formidable Officer Barrel, alongside Lockstock, and the police line-up is completed at times by O’Brien, Fransham, Wood and Moulder – who subverts all notions of her performance range in the ruthless riot-squad sequence.  

The style is comic book – think Batman‘s ‘Gotham City’ meets Oklahoma values and Li’l Abner hokum – and Act One is relentlessly two-dimensional as it spells out the premise, and delineates the goodies, baddies and in-betweens. While this comic style can accommodate the full range of human emotions, Urinetown‘s first half is too focussed on exposition, despite the stated awareness of Lockstock and Little Sally that "nothing kills a show like too much exposition."

Someone did suggest to me afterwards that they could have nuanced it more, as they do later, but I don’t think they have the material to work with, in a first act that Mark Hollman (music & lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book & lyrics) have prematurely committed to dialogue and song while still thinking it through. Even though Lockstock and Little Sally do make a running joke of debating the methodologies of musicals, the creators still could have buried the foundations more, so their characters were free to be and to play together in the story. One glaring omission is any manifest relationship between Bobby and his parents.

Little wonder, then, that the performers play their characters and deliver the persistently up-beat numbers to the broad-brushed hilt. Even so, by interval the show feels like a revue sketch padded out with style over substance until, led by Bobby, the have-nots finally take action, rising up to take Hope hostage and make their break via a memorable slo-mo sequence of brutal confrontation, escape and pursuit.

Act Two liberates the characters, however, even if they are holed up in a Secret Hideout with Hope as their hostage. They are joined by Hot Blades Harry, an old drug-addled revolutionary from the 1960s – a captivating cameo from Henare – and Robby the Stockfish (Fransham, because Bobby’s Dad had been consigned to Urinetown for peeing in public). And this is where the interesting moral questions arise about what may be done in the name of political activism.

The connection with current political debates are obvious. There are also shades of Patty Hearst in Hope’s alignment with the rebels. And the satirical jab at fear-based politics is timely. But the plot-twist at the end regarding Penny’s sordid past, and the transcendent power of a maternal instinct to protect, is pure Gilbert and Sullivan.

The loss of the hero – to Urinetown, from which no-one returns – before the finale is a powerful move, although Bobby does return in spirit to help bring home the message, that the answer lies in a workable balance between state power and individual freedom; between personal and collective responsibility.

Trendy notions of imprisonment and/or freedom being a state of mind are duly debunked, as is the ideal of the freedom to be happy without taking responsibility for a sustaining the necessities of life. And the strongest provocation for those who care to think beyond the potentially subversive pleasure of the song and dance razzmatazz is that no-one is innocent: we all play a role in making the system what it is.  

Musical director Tim Solly, who also plays piano and adds vocals, leads Tim Wise (drums/ percussion), Blair Latham (bass and soprano clarinet, sax and alto sax) and the cast through a plethora of musical genres, some of which – like the nods to Kurt Weill – could have been given darker colourings than the bright palette he uses for everything.

Most effective, not least because the audience has to engage their brains to avoid being hypnotised by them, are the gospel-style songs towards the end.

Director Catherine Downes has mounted a musical that proves, yet again, how rich we are in performing arts talent. At best Urinetown uses popular entertainment to confront some key political questions. At the very least it is a feel-good comfort stop on the stress-inducing journey to Christmas.


Thomas LaHood December 5th, 2007

Didn't love the marketing material for this show... Why did they need to add the little "Is that the title?" slogan? Seemed to me to detract from the actual title's inherent appeal.

Hugh Bridge November 18th, 2007

I feel a conspiracy theory emerging... Was someone up to his Broad-brushed hilt in orchestrating a publicity stunt for this show? Was home security funding cunningly diverted to arts promotion? Did some PC's PC programmed with a PC spellcheck transform Urinetown to Urerewa? Whatever, the creation of relevant reverberation makes Mark Ellis's Rangitoto puffery seem puny.

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