After a distinctly underwhelming February, with which I couldn’t even bother to bore you (From Here To Eternity , The A-Z of Mrs P and Shang-A-Lang), all hopes of retrieving the month from a theatrical wash-out are pinned on the final day.
The 2012 Macbeth dream team of director Jamie Lloyd and designer Soutra Gilmour present us their musical vision of a dystopian future in this London premiere of the 2001 Tony award winning show by Greg Kotis (book & lyrics) and Mark Hollmann (score & lyrics) that wears its eco-credentials as a badge of pride, but keeps its parched tongue firmly in its cheek.
In a drought stricken city, water has become such a precious commodity that lavatories have been privatised by the Urine Good Company (UGC), headed by the wicked arch capitalist Caldwell B. Cladwell (Simon Paisley Day giving us his best Emperor Ming). One of the filthy public pay-per-use “amenities” is managed by Penelope Pennywise (an incandescently bitter Jenna Russell, surely Mrs Lovett will be on her CV soon) and her assistant Bobby Strong (Richard Fleeshman strong of arm and voice). As is the norm in musical theatre, Cladwell’s daughter, Hope (Rosanna Hyland a sweet anti-heroine with a hint of sin) chances upon Bobby, they fall in love and engineer an uprising against UGC.
None of above prepares you for what is the funniest, knowing homage to musical theatre to hit these shores in a long time. This is The Book of Mormon for the over 21’s. Like Carrie with laughs it is laden with gore and the story is moved along by the dual narration of Jonathan Slinger’s deliciously evil Officer Lockstock and Karis Jack’s phenomenal London debut as razor sharp street kid Little Sally.
There are showstoppers galore, Jenna Russell’s first act “Privilege to Pee” shows the kids how to sell a song, while in the second act a magnificently malevolent company-led “Snuff That Girl” is followed by Richard Fleeshman’s rousing call to arms “Run Freedom Run”. How Fleeshman manages to keeps a straight face is beyond me, it’s called acting I suppose. Meanwhile mine is aching from the broad grins, groans and belly laughs.
We eventually discover the source of Penelope Pennywise’s bitterness and the almost altruistic reasoning behind Cladwell’s omnipotence, but by then it’s too late and the story twists and turns like a pretty policeman at a urinal. The macabre finale is a sober warning on the impact of a growing population on scarce resources and a welcome relief for anyone who is tired of redemption and happy endings.
Soutra Gilmour’s dual levelled set echoes both last year’s Macbeth and the sewer scene from Les Miserables, which the whole production lovingly lampoons. Adam Silverman’s lighting is suitably atmospheric and the five-piece band, led by musical supervisor Alan Williams, pounds out the brassy, sassy score, especially elevating the gospel numbers to heavenly heights.
Director Jamie Lloyd keeps the pace relentlessly brisk and choreographer Ann Yee even manages to transform police brutality into something beautifully balletic. The two and a bit hours fly by in a joyous dark fug of great songs, great performances, a great deal of blood and an enormous amount of laughter.
Jenna Russell proves yet again that she is without doubt the finest musical theatre performer currently gracing the London stage and Richard Fleeshman has quickly evolved from soap star to the perfect leading man, don’t ever leave us Richard, we need you.
This sold-out preview was packed with a young crowd, so word is already out. Come the reviews following Tuesday’s press night, you’ll be fighting for a ticket, so get in quick. The St James have got their first sure fire bona fide hit on their hands and my February theatrical wash-out finally ended with this mouth-watering musical that engages the brain and funny bone in equal measure.
Booking until 3 May 2014, gloriously gruesome and furiously funny, it pisses all over the competition - Urinetown