FringeReview UK 2017
Louis Craig directs and Gary Nock’s musical director BLT will effortlessly add to BLT’s roster of professional-standard musicals – and not just by this team. Katy Markey who plays the major role of Penelope Pennywise also consummately choreographs a show where sixteen dancing singers move fluidly or in slow motion, burlesquing villainous counterplots. Cath Prenton’s clever metallic drab set ingeniously gives most floor space up whilst constructing grids and vistas as well as a drop of everlasting rest. Beverley Grover’s lighting plays vividly or softly depending on location. Patti Griffiths as so often here provides a parodic set of wigs including arch villain daughter’s blue hair and the villain’s own blue streak. Its delicious. Frankie Knight and Margaret Skeet nicely differentiate and again the edge of parody. Till May 20th.
Urinetown’s a destination of mind and body, we’re told. Based on previous experience, when Louis Craig directs and Gary Nock’s musical director BLT will effortlessly add to their roster of professional-standard musicals and not just by this team. Katy Markey who plays the major role of Penelope Pennywise also consummately choreographs a show where sixteen dancing singers move fluidly or in slow motion, burlesquing villainous counterplots. Cath Prenton’s clever metallic drab set ingeniously gives most floor space up whilst constructing grids and vistas as well as a drop of everlasting rest. Beverley Grover’s lighting plays vividly or softly depending on location. Patti Griffiths as so often here provides a parodic set of wigs including arch villain daughter’s blue hair and the villain’s own blue streak. Its delicious. Frankie Knight and Margaret Skeet nicely differentiate and again the edge of parody.
This isn’t Urinetown yet, it’s Urinetown the Musical as narrator Officer Lockstock (upright commanding Tony Bright) informs street urchin Little Sally – Elsie Lovelock’s appealing and like bright able to find the truth of the parodic voice, an edgy waif. Officer Barrel with a secret passion of his own looks hapless: Max Bower goofs him gently.
We’re treated to the gamut of satires on the musical, proleptic winks and vigorous asides ‘that’s for Act Two’ and Sally’s left exposed to parodies that perplex her and in one way the audience. This isn’t going to be a happy musical. ‘but it’s a musical’ quips Sally. Twenty years of drought in a futurist dystopia have left all in thrall to Cladwell’s Urine Good Company, and a stock of parodies of The Threepenny Opera, itself parodic. But it’s not just capitalism authoritarianism, and activism that’s satirized: small town politics, Dickensian reforming prose, all set to knowing and catchy verses.
Of course it’s already a urine-town since this eco-disaster musical constantly deconstructing itself is set in a town where it’s not free to pee, you have to pay and use an amenity, as all water’s rationed and only the rich can afford WCs. Caldwell B Cladwell though has turned shortage to a means of control. Malefactors are ‘exiled to Urinetown’ though we soon discover it’s something far worse. When Joseph Strong (Nigel Cooper excellent here) finally loses it and is hauled off his son Bobby who works for Penny Pennywise decides on revolt. He also meets sweet Hope, Cladwell’s innocent loving daughter and the two instantly fall for each other. Ollie Wray’s both appealing and commanding, with that stripe in his voice tat you need to excel – if you parody Les Mis you have to be of that calibre. Wray’s superb, in a uniformly excellent cast. Ellie Earl’s Hope too negotiates naivety with a naturally strong voice that you ca pick out from the ensemble. Her character’s naturally static for long periods which gives her less opportunity to indulge in company dances as it were. There simply aren’t weak links hee; the cast’s ensemble singing is superlatively good. I was positioned in the front trwo and their harmony was overwhelming in its purity and timing.
Hope’s increasingly drawn to the rebels. However during the revolt Hope hesitates and is kidnapped. Then through Penny Pennywise’s intimate knowledge of the sewers, Penny finds the hideout and Bobby’s offered a parley. It’s his life bartered against Hope. But is Cladwell keener on power than his own daughter? Neil Sellman no stranger to BLT brings a sinister elegance but whose vocal range can attack anything: he invests Cladwell almost with a whiff of humanity.
Such a bald summary hardly scratches the musical excellence of this show. Some of the finer numbers occur in the second Act when Hot Blades Harry and Little Becky Two-Shoes, decide on revenge on Cladwell: kill Hope. ‘Snuff That Girl’ is memorable and Ernest Stroud invests his role with edge and nastiness. Emily hardy too sneers her deliberately rasped soprano. ‘Why Did I Listen To That Man?’ is sung both by Bobby and Hope for slightly different reasons in different parts of the city. It’s a superbly biting comment on what we hope as it were, from musicals.
The end’s not what we’d think, if we don’t know this work. There’s a postlude delivered by trusty Lockstock. Other fine roles are the corrupt senator with a dollar tattoo on his head, Senator Fipp taken by Paul Charlton and the engagingly prancing Mr McQueen, Hari Johnson relishing his role. Michele Titherly’s Ma Strong take wing in the Second Act, tapping into those stereotypes of ruthless older women revolutionaries. Daniel Walford (Mr Millennium) Rhys Mobsby’s double-roling particularly Tiny Tom and Leila Tasher’s Soupy Sue individualize their parts.
Marky as Pennywise is another commanding role and has one of the longest journeys in the piece undergoing a gamut of changing registers. Markey delivers with stamina and variety, in tremendous voice. The Band led by Gary Nock on keyboards keeps it all airborne: Samuel Firscht, Doug Logan, Jane Peckham, Perry Webber produce a punchy performance that never drowns out the voices.
This eco-warning musical can hardly be billed as feel-good but the music is. Mark Hollmann’s music and lyrics are as fresh as they were in 2001, and Greg Kotis’ book and lyrics are sadly prescient. This ambitious professional standard musical is something we almost take for granted with BLT. In festival time, we lose sight of some regular theatre work But this is overall the finest Fringe theatre event I’ve seen so far, so if it seems for you, try to see it and queue if need be for returns!.