Review: Urinetown (Cats Mainstage Theatre Company)

The last performance of Urinetown by the Cats Mainstage Theatre Company ran last night to a sold-out house at the Theatre Passe Muraille. The play ran in Toronto from June 8 to June 11, 2011.

I had the pleasure of watching this 10-time Tony-nominated musical for the first time, which won Best Book, Score and Direction. Urinetown has also won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical.

This is not your typical musical. It makes fun of other musicals, so even if you hate musicals, chances are you’ll still enjoy it tremendously. Many of the songs seem to parody West Side Story, Les Miserables and Fiddler on the Roof. Inspired by the works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, Urinetown satirizes the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility and bureaucracy.

This tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution is set in a Gotham-like city set in the future where water supply is short and  causing a 20-year drought. The government has enforced a ban on private toilets and citizens must use public toilets run by an evil company.

The play is humorously narrated by Officer Lockstock (Hytham Farah) and Little Sally (Jacqui Sirois), who help explain and reveal the plot to the audience as it unfolds. Farah has great comedic timing and made my theatre companion, Justin, chuckle quite a bit.

The most obvious thing I noticed was that the cast was extremely young. In fact, most of them are still in high school or younger. Each and every actor in the cast was very talented and I was impressed with their onstage professionalism.

The love story revolves around Hope Cladwell (Sara Davis) and Bobby Strong (Jay Ingram). Davis can hit the high notes with certain sweetness; Ingram has a strong voice with great range and pitch for a young male. They sound particularly great together in the duet “Follow Your Heart.” Both actors played their parts flawlessly, with great emotion and genuineness.

Other strong supporting actors included Allison Wither as Penelope Pennywise and Cole Zemel as Caldwell B. Cladwell. The cast, led by musical director Matthew Craig, gave me chills when they sang as a group.

My favourite songs were “It’s a Privilege to Pee,” “Don’t be the Bunny,” “Run Freedom Run,” and “I See a River.” The play’s songs are not only catchy, but have humour and depth in their words. I have to admit that the songs tugged at my heartstrings. The live music supporting the cast was excellent, despite having the tough job of playing for most of the play.

The director and choreographer was Peter Buzny, who was the featured Dance Captain in Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story Onstage (Mirvish) and was an assistant choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance. I applaud his dedication to this production and his likely ability to fix anyone’s two left feet.

I really enjoyed the set design and lighting. Changing scenes took almost no time at all. The lighting could really switch up the atmosphere – from grungy and Gotham-like to perky and colourful in the blink of an eye. One of my favourite lighting tricks was during a slow-motion scene.

Hope Caldwell’s baby pink retro dress suit and Bobby Strong’s “rebellion” jacket were fun and punchy in contrast to the poor, ragged clothing of the citizens and the stark, white suits of the Caldwell Corporation. In addition to great wardrobe choices, make-up helped make some of the cast members look older to fit the more elderly roles.

I had a great night and the volunteers at the production were extremely kind. The lady selling refreshments even gave us a free water bottle because we had a large bill and no change.

I am extremely impressed with this young group of actors and singers, and hope they continue to pursue their practiced interest in the arts. Even my theatre companion was surprised at much he enjoyed the show (he is not the theatre-going type).

Urinetown is great to see if you love the social commentary of The Simpsons or the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, if you love musicals, or if you just want to have a fun time. I am still happy from watching last night’s performance.

Photo of Sara Davis (centre) and Urinetown cast taken by Diana Nazareth Photography