Urinetown Apollo Theatre 2014
If there's a gnawing and growing suspicion that the commercial theatre is selling itself out to corporate, hedge-funded giants that's threatening to turn the West End and Broadway into a homogenized theme-park experience, here's the perfect riposte: a genuinely original musical about the corporatisation of America as it finds a way of making money out of dwindling natural resources.
Fortunately, the natural resourcefulness of writers, actors and a stellar team of creatives turns all of this into irresistible but simultaneously cautionary and chastening entertainment. And how refreshing it is to find it right here on Shaftesbury Avenue now, the true thoroughfare of commercial theatre, in such a thoroughbred production. It proves that dash and daring have not entirely deserted this part of London just yet.
It also feels right at home. The Apollo may have had a recent lavish refurbishment that has spruced it up considerably so that the loos are no longer the pokey, smelly rooms they were before, but leave via the side exit into Brewer Street and you still get the familiar stench of pee as you walk up the stairs.
Playing just a block away from The Book of Mormon, it similarly indulges in a lot of fun at the expense of musicals themselves, though in fact it got there over a decade before, when it was first premiered Off-Broadway in 1999. It's a metamusical with the maximum of knowing fun: in an early scene, Officer Lockstock tells his sidekick Little Sally, "Nothing can kill a show like too much exposition", and she replies, "How about bad subject matter? Or a bad title, even?"
The show could be, and is, taking the piss out of itself (in every sense). But it is also talking about even more serious things, like corporate America's greed in seizing any and every opportunity for business exploitation. Thanks to dwindling water supplies, the legislature has handed all toilets to a private monopoly, who now charge people to use them. Far fetched? Ryanair's boss once contemplated charging separately for their use on the planes he operates, so it's not impossible.
If the show occasionally threatens to outstay its welcome and the jokes starts to wear a little thin, the cast never do - they're a complete delight, with superb contributions throughout from a company that includes Jenna Russell, Jonathan Slinger, Matthew Seadon-Young, Simon Paisley Day, Cory English and Karis Jack.
"The blunt truth is, though, that it’s not just the title that’s poorly conceived. The show suffers from a strange condition of only getting interesting right at the end...forgettable froth"
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"I have, however, one crucial cavil: slick as Urinetown undoubtedly is, just as with the Book of Mormon I felt no emotional connection to the material. That’s a big problem for a big-ticket show."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press