It would be easy to rattle off some scatological quips about Newman’s latest musical outing, Urinetown. But that would ruin the whole conceit of Urinetown’s refusal to submit to cheap wordplay and throwaway gags. The script is taut, intelligent and undeniably charming in its revisionist agenda. And Newman’s cast pulls it off with success.
Directed by Matt Healy, the production makes use of a relatively bare set, arranging the set pieces creatively and subtly. The heightened performances react well to the sets: the oppressed townspeople, such as Lexon Li’s hilarious Old Man Strong, work a sense of claustrophobia into the domineering surrounds. On the other hand, the severe Caldwell B. Cladwell, played by Michael Bennett, and his cronies match the set with imposing physicality.
The light, whimsical and heavily self-referential nature of the first act is offset by a darker finale, a tonal shift that feels assured and delicately handled in Newman’s production. This tonal shift is carried by a talented cast, led by romantic leads, Ryan Bentley and Sarah Parkin. The highlight performances, however, belong to Lane Hyde as Officer Lockstock and Emma Anthony as Penelope Pennywise. Hyde’s accent work is uneven, but his comic timing and delivery feels nicely tailored to the deadpan comedy of Urinetown. Meanwhile, Anthony delivers a confident, dramatic character arc, despite it feeling over-pronounced by the script.
The gently satirical style of Urinetownnever quite escapes from its traditional musical theatre trappings, despite a darkly subversive ending. This makes it feel all the more like a student theatre production and certainly not an over-exertion on the part of Newman College. Not that there’s anything wrong with a safe option, though it is an unrelentingly tame rendering.
Though a little on the dull side of musical theatre, Newman’s Urinetownis funny and warm with a talented cast to boot. Ultimately a cosy theatre experience that was surely a crowd-pleaser.
Newman College’s production of Urinetown ran from the 9th-12th of August in the Guild Theatre.