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Urinetown as presented by Newcastle Glees Musical Society

Urinetown, as presented by Newcastle Glees Musical Society

Date of Adjudicated Performance: Friday, 24th November, 2023.

Given the reality of climate change and our abuse of this planet, Urinetown, despite tackling the topic in a very crazy and hilarious manner, is a show that has an important message, and it deserves to be enjoyed by audiences everywhere. It’s off the wall, outrageous, hysterical, darkly dystopian, and yet remarkably uplifting, and in the safe hands of Newcastle Glees, it was given a thoroughly satisfying treatment.

It was most impressive that Director, Laura Kerr had the skill and ability to bring the best out of the comedy and the drama of this piece. Her attention to the visual detail of the show was remarkable, and the strength and variety of characterizations throughout was a tribute to a thorough and thoughtful process. There were many moments of magic, but top of the list was the unexpected and hilarious birth of a slum-baby during Run Freedom Run. I thought I would fall off my seat.

One could almost imagine the stench of the public toilets, just looking at the rotten, festered set of the opening scene of the show, so detailed was the scenery. It was immediately apparent that we had been transported to the dumping ground of a world that had gone tragically wrong. More could have been done to contrast this with a gleaming and well painted Urine Good Company set, to show how much better the privileged were living. That scene was considerably brighter but maybe needed a touch more glamour and dressing to make it really opulent.

Perhaps the lack of space and facilities were responsible for Bobby’s death not being as dramatic as it might have been, and maybe the highly atmospheric lighting, on occasions, needed to be balanced with a bit more key light on performers’ faces, as some expression was lost in shadow. Sound quality throughout was impressive, with good cueing and a good balance between stage and band, and while the stage crew, under stage Manager Clair Williams, were industrious and efficient, had then all worn black outfits, they would have been more invisible.

I don’t know if the costumes for the show were hired or locally created, but they were fabulous, especially the ones worn by the slum-dwellers. They were stunningly stained and bedraggled, and yet still created individuality among the players. The flamboyant and delightfully over-the-top outfits of the privileged few were unexpected but entirely appropriate, given the surreal circumstances of the whole show. The cops looked great and there were some glitzy outfits for the specialty dancers. As with the costumes, wigs were very good and for the rich, deliciously effete. Hairstyles for the peasants were outrageously straggly and looked lice-filled, and the make-up, both for the powered elite and for the festering unhealthy poor, was top-notch. Visually, the whole show was excellent.

If Laura Kerr’s direction was visionary, then choreographer, Clare Donnelly followed that dream to create dance routines that strongly captured the mood and tone of each scene, and were filled with energy and comedy. Particularly impressive in style and variety were The

Cop Song, Don’t Be The Bunny, Mr.Caldwell and Snuff That Girl, but it was the sheer power, exuberance and delivery of Run Freedom Run that brought the house down. But then

again, she was blessed to have a chorus who were quite simply brilliant. They were vocally powerful and melodic and their acting and dancing were a real backbone to this production.

Taking the central role of narrator, Officer Lockstock, Martin McDowell had a strong presence and a great comedic rapport with the audience. Losing the sunglasses would have added more expression to his delivery, but he still had excellent body language and very good timing. He led the very funny Cop Song with aplomb.

His co-narrator, more or less, and inquisitive on behalf of the audience, was Little Sally, quite brilliantly played by Anna Young. Her style was brash and over-the-top, like a child having tantrums, but hilariously so, and delivered with excellent comedic ability. She also had a fine vocal quality and was a good dancer.

Taking the romantic lead with not just a ‘Strong’ but also a very measured performance was Josh Clark in the role of Bobby. Growing in stature as the show progressed, he was at his finest leading the Run Freedom Run number with a powerful vocal display. His comedic love of Hope was also most enjoyable.

Hope, in turn, was played with innocence and naivety by Anna Moore, who also possessed a sweet and tuneful voice. Her comedy, particularly the Follow Your Heart scene, was very secure and she became a force to be reckoned with as she turned on her cold-hearted father. Lowry Hodgett played Cladwell, the controlling and maniacal director of Urine Good Company, as a kind of new age Roman Emperor, adorned with fancy robes, a bouffant wig, jewelry and a permanent sneer at all below him. He captured the nastiness of the character very well and performed his vocals confidently.

The fiery and formidable warden of the filthiest urinal in town, Ms. Pennywise, was played with a terrifyingly, toxic charm by Emma-Jane McKnight. Here was a woman you wouldn’t want to get into a fight with, wielding her plunger like a sword, and with a voice that would

scare the Banshees. This was great character realization, and even the make-up and the messed-up mental state couldn’t disguise the talent and the quality voice that hid beneath the grime. Very good indeed.

Stephen Donnan-Dalzell turned in a comically camp performance, all flounces and feathers, as corrupt politician, Senator Fipp, alongside a sycophantic aide to Caldwell, Mr McQueen, ably played with groveling gentility by Gordon Donaldson.

Sean Trainor as Dr. Billeaux and Orla McCrickard as Mrs. Millenium comfortably completed the impressive line-up for the wealthy elite.

At the opposite end of the social ladder, were some brilliant character roles, not the least of which was Soupy Sue, the pregnant slum-dweller who gives birth mid-song at the comedic high-point of the show, superbly played by company chair-person, Emma Nugent. By her side for much of the show, and matching her in comedic and vocal ability was a most impressive Fiona Keegan as Ma Strong.

Diarmuid Taggart made the most of his role as Old Man Strong, with the delightfully funny scene of peeing in public.

Like the Bonnie and Clyde of the street rats, Fiona Keane as Becky Two Shoes and Francis McKinney as Hot Blades Harry entertained with a comical blood-lust with their hearts set on murdering Hope in revenge for the death of Bobby.

Also impressive among the throng of unfortunates were Katy Keaveney as Roberta the Stockfish, Campbell Evans as Billy Boy Bill and a superb cameo of Tiny Tom, brought to life by Chris Mooney. The principal line was completed by a secure and comedic interpretation of Officer Barrell from James Marsden, performing strongly alongside Officer Lockstock.

Binding everything together musically, with a full bodied accompaniment to the show that never over-powering the on-stage performers, Musical Director, Mark Tilley led a small but robust and precise band of talented musicians. Tempi were strong and steady, and the more sentimental moments were treated with a respectful mellowing of the tone. But it was in the preparation of the chorus that Mr. Tilley really made his Mark (shocking pun, I know). Vocal quality, harmonies, tone, diction and expression were of the highest order throughout the show, in what was a wonderful musical display.

Having seen the show before, I was already well prepared for the journey through the gutters of Urinetown, yet despite that familiarity, I found myself swept along by the delightful irreverence, the original touches and the sheer passionate energy of a production that ticked all the boxes in providing high-calibre musical theatre and entertainment. Sincere thanks to all concerned.

Peter Kennedy, Gilbert Adjudicator

Some photos kindly provided by the society.

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