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by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann
Firehall Arts Centre
January 6-February 5

This is Jerry's review of last winter's Firehall production.

One thing I guarantee you’ll never see: Urinetown, The Musical used to promote the provincial government’s public-private partnerships.

In a dystopian society where twenty years of drought have made water worth its weight in gold, it’s become “a privilege to pee.”  All toilets are pay toilets run by a greedy corporation (Urine Good Company) supported by corrupt cops and bribed politicians. Poor people beg for pennies to pay for their morning tinkle.  Get caught whizzing behind a bush and you’re hauled off to Urinetown—a place from where no one ever returns.

Like all good musicals, this one has a love story at its centre.  Sweet ingenue Hope (Tracy Neff), daughter of the capitalist creep who runs UGC (Jay Brazeau), falls for young Bobby Strong (Ryan Cunningham). And yes, hope grows strong as they follow their hearts and lead the revolution to a bright shiny day where people and peeing can be free!

A musical that spoofs musicals—The Fantasticks meets Threepenny Opera with Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s choreography cleverly citing Fiddler on the Roof, Les Miz, and West Side Story for good measure—Urinetown is a joy from beginning to end.  Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis deservedly won Tony Awards for their witty book and lyrics and lively score. Audience-friendly performances and sure-handed direction from Donna Spencer combine to make this one of the best productions in Firehall history.

Guiding us through the story with hilarious commentary on how musicals work are Officer Lockstock (his partner’s name is Barrel), played with aplomb by rich baritone David Adams, and squeaky-voiced, pig-tailed Little Sally (immensely talented Tracey Power), who steals the show every time she opens her mouth to ask “what kind of musical is this?!”

Among many highlights, the number that has the audience buzzing most is the glorious Brazeau’s Darwinian lesson to his tender-hearted daughter on the necessity to be the hunter rather than the hunted, squasher rather than squashee.  “Don’t Be the Bunny,” he sings, flinging his ample frame gracefully around the stage, backed by a chorus of bunny-hopping cops and capitalist cronies. Brazeau is a marvel, his performance somehow subtle and broad at the same time.  Wait until you see what he does with a toilet plunger.

Definitely broad but never subtle is Barbara Barsky as Miss Pennywise, gatekeeper of Public Amenity Number 9, who has a terrific voice but overacts and upstages shamelessly. Cunningham as Bobby manages the subtlety in his acting but lacks the vocal chops, especially in contrast with Neff’s beautiful singing as Hope. The uneven chorus gets to showcase its talents in act two, led by an impressive Leon Willey.

Flaws are few and virtues many (including Ya-Wen Vivienne Wang’s strong musical direction) in this delightful show. You gotta go. It’s a pisser.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Wednesday, October 11, 2006 3:30 PM
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