Urinetown (Apollo Theatre)
Jamie Lloyd's production adds a different dimension to the West End
Jamie Lloyd's (long-overdue) UK premiere production of this cult American show has boldly moved to the West End, where it's wedged incongruously between Thriller Live and Les Miserables on Shaftesbury Avenue.
The premise is bizarre - that a futuristic dictator has demanded levies from his people to pee, due to an ecological catastrophe and resultant water shortage - but scores plenty of satirical points on the nature of power, revolution and corporate control.
It also delightfully sends up the musical theatre genre, with our policeman narrator Officer Lockstock (RSC stalwart Jonathan Slinger) patiently explaining to a young girl (Karis Jack) that she mustn't overwhelm the show with exposition.
The hero of the tale is Bobby Strong, a toilet cleaner who leads the revolution against Simon Paisley Day's delightfully arch villain Caldwell B Cladwell. As Strong, newcomer Matthew Seadon-Young is a revelation, completely owning the role with a powerful vocal and sharp comic sensibility.
His love interest, Cladwell's expensively educated and good-hearted daughter Hope (the equally impressive Rosanna Hyland), lends the story a decidedly Les Mis vibe as they make eyes across the revolutionary hideout. And there's excellent support from Jenna Russell's wisecracking loo-keeper with a past (there are shades of her recent Bart Simpson at the Almeida), and Nathan Amzi as Officer Lockstock's blockheaded sidekick Barrel.
The lack of any real toe-tapping songs in Mark Hollmann's score left me parched until the blistering "Run Freedom Run" in the second act. It's here that the show really moves up a gear, building to a nicely meta climax that refuses to tie everything up in a neat musical theatre fashion. And it really does make some salient points about our impending environmental doom.
Urinetown may feel somewhat out of place under a gilded proscenium arch, and loses a certain raucousness in transition. But full credit to the prolific Lloyd and his producers for bringing this cheeky, likeable jester of a show to the heart of an all-too conservative West End.