Can Urinetown Shake Off Its Title And Tuck Away A West End Success?

The satirical musical comedy Urinetown sold out during its run at the St James Theatre and now arrives in the West End but with a title which can hardly be called a marketing blessing will it draw enough crowds to survive in the heart of London’s Theatreland?

Urinetown was written in 2001 with music & lyrics by Mark Hollmann and lyrics & book by Greg Kotis. It opened off Broadway transferring to Henry Miller’s Theatre on Broadway in September 2001 winning the Tony Award for ‘Best Original Score’ and ‘Best Book of a Musical’, as well as securing a nomination for ‘Best New Musical’ in 2002. It ran for 965 performances, before closing in 2004 –  a good run for a new musical.

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Image rights; Mraz Centre for the Performing Arts — “You just head to make the title of this article a penis joke, didn’t you…”

The majority of critics heralded the performance during its recent run at St James Theatre, London, calling it “sharp” and “hysterically funny” but as is the business, opposing views were also voiced, with Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail calling it a “puerile show”. Headed by leading lady Jenna Russell and RSC front man Jonathan Slinger, a formidable cast is sure to deliver an accomplished performance but whether it can compete and survive among the giants such as Les Miserables and Wicked is the standing question. especially with new hot ticket The Book Of Mormon approaching the end of a second successful year

Urinetown will naturally stir interest when it opens. Critics will again have their say but in this age of social media the audience’s opinion seems more prevalent than ever and may be the defining factor to the success of such a production. The key point of contention surrounding this musical is its title and ability to draw tourists and the wider general public to see this production, rather than just the niche audience that is already a lock-in. To an outsider or lay theatregoer, a production named Urinetown may seem to entirely off-putting. The show itself is self aware enough to acknowledge that the title is far from ideal for the show to be a success. “A bad title, even? That could kill a show pretty good.” exclaims one character. Try telling your other half on your anniversary that this year you think a ticket to a musical called Urinetown is in your eyes the way to celebrate.

Nonetheless, the show has heart and a good score including the anthemic Run, Freedom Run, and stands as a satirical critic of big corporations with at least as much relevance, if not more, as when the show opened in 2001. Parodying various musicals with its unconventional plot. it is a show that the West End has not seen the likes of before and will hopefully find its own place and market. With producer extraordinaire, Cameron Mackintosh’s, recent comment that “Musical drama’s will always run longer than comedies,” we’ll have to wait and see if Urinetown makes any considerable splash on the West End.

 Urinetown opens at the Apollo Theatre, London on 29th September 2014