"Urinetown"comes to Toronto with its suitcases filled with awards, citations, critical accolades and tremendous word-of-mouth, and the opening night audience appeared to validate all the marketing hoopla by cheering its way through the two acts of this satirical look at corporate culture and musical theatre. Having seen the original Broadway production a couple of years ago (the CanStage production has been replicated by the entire New York team, including the set from the theatre whose demise led to the show's closing) I was very curious to see how "Urinetown" held up to a second visit.
I should mention first that I adored the show when I first saw it, the company of players among the finest that I've seen in a Broadway musical in many seasons. I was also taken with the musical staging and really knocked out by the vocal power of every member of the ensemble. The evening reinforced that Broadway can really be the best of the best. I should also add, quickly, that I didn't bring along a score card to last week's Toronto opening.
The cast in Toronto is eager to please. They sound great together under the musical direction of Stephen Woodjetts, though there is not much personality as they perform their separate roles. There are exceptions to this in Mary Ann McDonald and Lee MacDougall. In addition, Frank Moore brings style and ease to the role of Caldwell B. Cladwell even though he has the dullest scenes to play and the least appealing songs to sing. Stephen Patterson, as the heroic Bobby Strong, sings extremely well but lacks the charge that transcends the stock type he plays. And his scenes with Cara Leslie, who plays Hope, his romantic counterpart, never move past cartoon silliness. Perhaps as the run continues they will find some truth in their emotional connection that can expel what is, currently, flatly predictable.
What I noticed at the opening was that the show is still finding its rhythm and pace. Desperation to please overshadowed variety of tempo and tone so that the evening was ultimately a blur of loud voices, especially screechy among the women, and there was little attention given to anything resembling an honest human emotion. Actors were still far too intent on the stylized direction that they'd been given and the musical staging and choreography, while energetic and convulsively happy, all but collapsed in the curtain call "ballet". I hope that the company members will soon settle into their own roles and, in the process, select distinctive attitudes and characterizations so that the production will find its heart where now an efficient engine pumps away.
Most striking of all with this return visit to "Urinetown" is the fact that the book is revealed to be thin at best and offensive at worst. If the focus of the satire is meant to be corporate big business, then Greg Kotis should re-think his attack. (The awards he has won and the money he has earned may tell him otherwise, of course.) At the same time, the endless parodies of musical theatre numbers and musical theatre put-downs reveal that the show is an in-joke and not a social or political attack of any sort. In the end, "Urinetown" is trying to pass itself off as a show with something to say when it is, in fact, no deeper than the ushers who, at intermission, are in the lobby flogging CD's, mugs and other merchandise. If that in itself isn't a topic for satire, what is?
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