If you were in town over the last month, you could’ve checked out Urinetown.
Brought to us by the Pangdemonium theatre company, Urinetown: The Musical is a Singaporean take on American playwright Greg Kotis’ satirical comedy. The play reimagines a fictional setting in “the most expensive city in the world” where a cross-border water crisis had plagued the town, causing an extreme water shortage. The government had thus ordered a ban on private lavatories, erecting a “pay-to-pee” public toilet system, which placed the tyrant, Caldwell B. Cladwell, and his corporation Urine Good Company (UGC for short) in absolute power.
With the corrupt police carrying out Cladwell’s orders, exile into “Urinetown” is held as a threat against offenders who obstruct the pay-to-pee system. Faced with a new pee-fee hike, the poor townspeople staged a revolution against the prospect of having to pay to relieve themselves- a supposedly human right. Instead of playing Robin Hood however, Bobby finds himself playing Romeo when his love interest Hope turned out to be Cladwell’s daughter!
It is definitely rare how the plot of an originally American play can fit so well into Singapore’s context. After all, water shortage is an issue that is very close to our hearts – a fact of which this production showed clear awareness. Indeed, Greg Kotis’ play helps us to visualise an exaggerated scenario of what could happen when we run out of water. As well as contemplate whether we think authoritarian control is justified during tough times.
Our pick for the Musical’s stand-out character would have to be the wise-beyond-her-years Little Sally (played by Mae Elliessa), a street urchin who broke the fourth wall by questioning the narrator about things we were curious about. Little Sally shared her insight that Urinetown is “not a physical place, but a metaphysical space.” She therefore showed no fear when threatened with the prospect of being thrown into Urinetown, because in her words, she was already in Urinetown – a place where they were living in constant fear.
While the citizens did eventually win their freedom and gain justice at the end of the play, the audience is obliged to question: “What next?” Hope’s naivete established her as a poor leader, and opened up the town to potential anarchy where anyone can do “whatever they want, wherever they want, with whomever they want.” It is clear to see that in Urinetown, things all boil down to the idea of balance. Power should not lie in the selfish businessman apathetic to the people’s needs. Nor should it fall into the hands of the naïve child, whose idealistic hopes leave her blind to the limits of our resources. Faced with the two extremes of authoritarian government and anarchy, the audience had to admit that both are equally undesirable.
While its exciting premise showed great promise, we felt that the political satire was side-tracked by its romantic subplot and (spoiler alert) the dramatic revelation of a birth secret, both of which did not contribute to the plot’s progress. Rather than the Tony Award-winning script, it was the vocal prowess of the musical’s dynamic cast that stole the show for this adaptation. Indeed, with big names (and voices) in local theatre like Adrian Pang and Mina Kaye, we were certainly not disappointed by the musical’s catchy tunes and the actors’ cheeky comedic timing.
Overall, Urinetown: The Musical, while “not a happy musical”, is an enjoyable play that had the audience roaring with laughter while nodding along with the music. The production was also quite a feat for a local theatre company to pull off, with the intelligent design of its set and stage space. We look forward to Pangdemonium‘s upcoming projects for the year 2020 and we hope to see you there!