Urinetown: The Musical // Phoenix Ensemble

Review by Anina-Marie Evans and Kieran J. Evans

Step into a world where laughter meets social commentary, where the absurdity of our systems is on full display, and where a musical takes an unapologetically daring plunge into the depths of satire. Phoenix Ensemble’s production of Urinetown: The Musical catapults audiences into a dystopian universe where law, capitalism, and municipal politics collide in a riotous explosion of music, wit, and irreverence. 

With its subversive take on everything from social irresponsibility to corporate mismanagement, this Tony Award-winning gem, composed by the talented Mark Hollmann and lyrically crafted by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, pulls no punches in its unflinching critique of our modern world. Prepare to have your funny bone tickled and your assumptions challenged in Phoenix Ensemble’s latest theatrical foray.

Directed by Hayley Gervais, with Musical Direction from Benjamin Richards and Choreography by Jamie O’Donoghue, Phoenix’s Urinetwon is a thoroughly enjoyable experience from beginning to end. Hayley Gervais’s direction brings out the important overarching messages in this largely comedic piece. Although absolutely hilarious, Urinetown is packed with clever satire and witty political insights. Gervais carefully guides her cast through every beat of this script with expert skill. 

Musical Director, Benjamin Richards has worked with both the vocalists and the orchestra to deliver this amazing score to perfection. Every note in every number is spectacular. Richards also plays keyboard and takes on the role of conductor. The musicianship of this small orchestra including Monique Matthews on reeds, Jay Chopke on trombone and euphonium, Phil Kan on double bass, and Jack Rabbidge on drums is superb. Standout musical numbers in this production include ‘Run, Freedom, Run’, ‘Cop Song’ and ‘Why Did I Listen to That Man?’. 

Jamie O’Donoghue’s choreography is highly engaging and works well within the comedic style of the script. O’Donoghue’s interpretation of ‘Cop Song’ is particularly entertaining and provides some of the most memorable moments from the evening.

From a technical standpoint, Phoenix’s Urinetown is flawless. The Sound Design by Jacob Cash and Lighting Design by Maddy Bosanko flow seamlessly and excellently support the action on the stage. The Set Design by Breanna Gear, Hayley Gervais and Emma Erdis is clever and supports quick scene changes. This is backed up by the stunning costume, hair and makeup design by Breanna Gear that brings out the unique facets of each character’s personality. A particular shout out to the great big fur cloak for Cladwell, this is excellent!

This production would not be the success that it is without the amazing talent and hard work of the spectacular cast that brought the world and the characters to life. 

Without a doubt the star of the show is Isaac Tibbs in the role of Bobby Strong. Tibbs’ grasp of a reluctant hero under pressure flying by the seat of his pants is a joy to behold. Both for his whimsical pursuit of a love interest after a meet-cute, and his willingness to do what is necessary to better the lives of his fellow citizens. Despite his much battered nature within the confines of Urinetown, he holds notes and hits high and low points with much fervor, an excellent job! Tibbs’ performance of ‘Run, Freedom, Run’ is an absolute highlight of the night. 

Lauren Clark is perfectly cast in her role as Hope Cladwell. As the privileged scion of a profit-driven multinational conglomerate, Hope’s journey takes us on a mesmerizing exploration of shattered illusions and awakening consciousness. With a nuanced performance that beautifully captures the starry-eyed innocence of a daughter adoring her immensely wealthy father, Clark masterfully unravels the layers of Hope’s character, exposing the harsh realities imposed upon a society plagued by inequality. Despite her seemingly airheaded personality, she is of strong moral fiber, and displays this with gusto, sparking revolutions and acceptance with her musical chants of fabulous notations.

Zoe Costello shines as a pragmatic Penelope Pennywise, doing all she can to survive in a near wasteland whilst turning a buck or two into a vaguely survivable wage, despite supporting a soulless wallet gouging regime. Something we can all hope to aspire towards. Costello’s strong vocals throughout this production are a particular standout.

Caleb Holman’s eccentric and ruthless villain is an absolute delight, from the schemes of petty evil men to reminiscing on the good ol’ bad times, Holman captures the eye and stokes the fire in the bellies of all those who wish to join a revolution. Promise we won’t lynch you though! Holman’s vocals are absolutely outstanding and another highlight of the night.

Lachlan Clark as Officer Lockstock is another standout performer in this show. One part of the no-nonsense narrator and exposition delivering duo of Lockstock and Little Sally. Guaranteed survivability to the Forthcoming™ as the narrator, Clark’s one liners and likeability despite being on the wrong side of the morality code (if not the law), shows the shades of gray for evil. Clark’s take on Lockstock is spectacular. Particularly, our favourite moment of the night is Clark’s absolutely hilarious performance of ‘Cop Song’, simply superb!

On the munchkin side, full of queries and quips, bringing to light the recent goings-on in the backstory of the show, Abby Page is resplendent in her depiction of Little Sally. This small yet precocious ragamuffin is absolutely lovable as she attempts to scrounge cash from stage and audience to pay for her daily ablutions. 

Prepare to be thoroughly entertained by Harley Roy’s brilliant portrayal of Barrell, the lovably hapless sidekick to Lockstock. Roy’s masterful delivery strikes a perfect balance between humor and charm, expertly capturing Barrell’s endearing role as the bumbling companion. With a delightful tongue-in-cheek approach, Roy brings a touch of whimsy to the character, navigating the treacherous paths that lead our daring heroes and heroines into unforgettable encounters. Roy is a favourite of Bravo Brisbane for this performance. Fantastic!

The supporting cast of Urinetown shines brightly, adding their unique flair and unyielding spirit to the production. Comprised of Jackson Poole (Hot Blades Harry), Emma Erdis (Little Becky Two Shoes), Jo Burnett (Senator Fipp), Courtney Astin (McQueen), Ren Gerry (Joseph “Old Man Strong/Millenium), Maegan Weir (Soupy Sue/Cladwell’s Secretary), Debbie Taylor (Josephine “Old Ma” Strong), Delilah Bennett (Tiny Tom), Grace Clarke (Billy Boy Bill), and Angelina Mustafay (Robby the Stockfish). These actors brought a certain je ne sais quoi to the performance with their commentary and unwillingness to allow the main cast to get away with their agenda.  

Special mention to Jackson Poole as Hot Blades Harry, and Emma Erdis as Little Becky Two Shoes, their interesting character development that never quite loses its vicious near-psychotic shine is a welcome reprieve from the near bloodless aspects of a show that depicts revolutions and forced poverty. It’s always nice to watch the interplay between side-characters and the audience, the fourth wall is sometimes just a window. 

Overall, Phoenix Ensemble’s production of Urinetown is an excellent night out at the theatre filled with clever direction, excellent musicianship, skilled performances and lots and lots of laughter. You do not want to miss this one!

Tickets are available here, Urinetown: The Musical is showing May 12 to May 27, at Phoenix Ensemble in the Beenleigh Showgrounds Tin Shed.

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