In the words of Adrian Pang, Urinetown is “a supremely witty social satire, a hysterical absurdist parody, and a brilliant tongue-in-check piss-take of so many social ills that are rife in our world today”.
Lest you dismiss all that as marketing spew, he offers more specifics: “The music is fantastic, the characters are shamelessly larger-than-life, and the tone of the show is also deliciously, deliriously silly.”
Urinetown unfolds in “the most expensive city in the world”, where a “cross-border water crisis” has led to a ban on private lavatories and the erection of pay-per-use public toilets run by the powerful Urine Good Company. Break the law, and you will be exiled to the dreaded Urinetown. When another fee hike hits, a revolution erupts.
The winner of three Tony Awards among other accolades, Urinetown first premiered in New York in 2001 and explores themes such as people power, capitalism, populism and corporate corruption.
Pang says there were one or two “cheeky references…that will particularly tickle Singapore audiences” but his team at Pangdemonium did not have to do anything major to make it relevant and resonant to audiences here.
“For one thing, it’s no secret that the cost of living in Singapore is going through the roof,” he adds. “Higher tariffs are being introduced into our everyday life. The gap between the wealthy and the needy is widening. And yes, our water resources are increasingly under threat.”
The last is a particular concern. Water consumption in Singapore comes up to 430 gallons every day, and demand is expected to double in the next four decades. Recycled water aside, we import about 40 percent of water from neighbours such as Johor. The government has invested in infrastructure to strengthen water supply but climate change has made the mission more challenging.
Urinetown is not just intelligent but entertaining too. Director Tracie Pang determines to keep us on the edge of our (emotional) seats with this tightly paced production, where the turmoil threatens to destroy the budding romance between youngsters from opposing camps. As song-and-dance numbers get more rousing, the ominous feelings intensify – until tragedy occurs.
Pang, as Lockstock, a police officer who is also the narrator, turns in a wholehearted performance as he effortlessly switches between irreverent and arrogant through the scenes. He clearly enjoys this assignment, perhaps in part due to his very-talented and eager-to-please co-stars including Sean Ghazi, Mina Kaye and Benjamin Chow.
Pang, who’s also producer for Urinetown, admits that Pangdemonium gravitates towards stories that may deal with taboo subjects or topics that are difficult to discuss. “But part of the point is to make people face up to certain uncomfortable truths so that hopefully we can all try to find a way to come to terms with them, or even find solutions to them,” he shares.
But he insists he’s not trying to impose his opinions on the audience through his work. “I don’t want that kind of responsibility. The audience may crave for the transformative experience of theatre — that’s the kind we strive to create. And if the production I am involved in can touch someone in a personal, positive way, that makes the effort worthwhile.”
Urinetown runs until 13 October at Drama Centre Theatre. Click here for tickets and other details.