By Grace Kalaiselvi
The honest truth is that I have never been a fan of musicals, be it to watch or even perform in one. Talking about big musicals with their show-stopping numbers, I personally feel that the sudden singing somehow breaks the momentum of storytelling. However, I am still willing to give musicals a try if the promotional materials appeal to me in one way or another. Urinetown: The Musical caught my attention with the witty local flavour injected into their promotional trailers released online. Also, having watched some of Pangdemonium’s previous shows, they do deliver well and the topic at hand is highly relatable as we will face a major water crisis if our neighbourly love sours with Malaysia.
The premise of Urinetown: The Musical a fictional city, that is also deemed the most expensive, facing a water shortage. To deal with the matter at hand, the government made a decision to ban private lavatories, imposing a pay-to-pee rule and the poor are affected when they have to pay exorbitant prices to use the public toilets run by the corporation Urine Good Company (UGC) owned by Caldwell B. Cladwell. Those who can’t afford this change and pee in public spaces are thrown into Urinetown. When the fee to pee is raised over time, the poor finally revolt.
When threatened with yet another pee-fee hike, the poor citizens, having endured overwhelming oppression and bursting bladders, can no longer hold it in, and stage a revolution, led by a handsome hero with the heroically handsome name of Bobby Strong. And, in true musical theatre style, he still finds the time and energy to fall hopelessly in love with the honeylicious Hope Cladwell, who (shock! horror! spoiler!) turns out to be the daughter of the dastardly Caldwell B. Cladwell!
Initially attracted to catch the musical due to its locality, I had expectations for the chosen accent for speech to be local only to be disappointed that they were kept foreign. Though this choice was understandable, it did alienate me at some points when they became slightly tough for me to comprehend. And with speech, this went on to affect how I took to the singing as well and felt that some of the cast tried to hit high notes at the expense of clarity. That aside, the show did pick up in terms of pace for the second half and that made the experience more engaging.
On a more positive note, Sean Ghazi who played Caldwell B. Cladwell, the owner of UGC and especially Mina Ellen Kaye who played his daughter Hope Cladwell were exceptionally good in belting out their musical numbers. The ensemble in particular was very strong as well, in keeping the piece together with their singing and high energy dancing, which was well choreographed by Andy Benjamin Cai.
Special mention must go out to Mae Elliessa for her quirky portrayal of poor Little Sally and Benjamin Chow who played Bobby Strong, the hero leading the revolution, for his presentation of Run, Freedom, Run!
Moments like the falling body and revelation of Penelope Pennywise’s relationship to Hope Cladwell were indeed funny. I was also impressed by Eucien Chia’s set and James Tan’s lighting which enabled detailed transformations of a dark underground sewer world to a brightly lit, rich office world of UGC.
The audience comprising a good mix of both Singaporeans and foreigners loved the musical, showing their support by clapping for each number that was belted out. I personally appreciate Pangdemonium’s effort in doing award-winning shows for our audience but I do wonder what is the reach and take back from it. Overall, it came across to me like what a production would be like if you have the money and presented to people who have the money to watch it. The show as a whole was very effective in telling a simple straightforward story.
If you like entertaining, crowd pleasing musicals, then it’s a show worth watching.
Urinetown: The Musical
Date: 27th September – 13th October 2019
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Time: Tuesday – Saturday & 13th Oct (Sunday), 8pm / Saturday & Sunday, 3pm
Admission: From $40 (Concession rates are available. Get your tickets here.)
Rating: Advisory (Some mature content)
Photography credits: Pangdemonium