Jonathan Slinger, Jenna Russell and Simon Paisley Day in rehearsals for Urinetown The Musical, playing at St James Theatre (Photo: Johan Persson)
Jonathan Slinger, Jenna Russell and Simon Paisley Day in rehearsals for Urinetown The Musical, playing at St James Theatre (Photo: Johan Persson)

Jenna Russell’s Urinetown diary: Week 5

Published February 19, 2014

As Urinetown The Musical leaves the rehearsal room behind and heads for the St James Theatre, Jenna Russell lets us in on a hectic week.

Hello all, it’s week five and we are all knackered and exhilarated in equal measure. It’s been a busy week in our house. My Mum, bless her, has come down from Scotland to help us with childcare as my other half has a radio job during most of the week. Hurrah for my Mum, saving the day yet again! 

Monday was a long day with our call finishing at 21:00. However Ann Yee, the choreographer, helped to make it tolerable by bringing in the best homemade brownies I have ever had the pleasure to eat. I must also mention the mind-blowingly good banana loaf brought in by cast member Matt Seadon Young which came in a close second for deliciousness. I had to say that otherwise Matt threatened never to speak to me again. Alright Matt? Now, back off, bro!

Richard Fleeshman had an even longer day as he had to train it up and down to Manchester to represent the show on BBC Breakfast. My Mum recorded it and I was amazed how ridiculously squeamish the grown-up presenters were about saying the name of our show Urinetown The Musical… Say it! URINETOWN THE MUSICAL! See? No-one has met some grisly pee-induced end and the world is indeed still turning. 

I’ve never had an issue with the title of our show. I’ve always thought it was funny and a really clever play on words. I’m honestly shocked at how disturbed some people are about it! We’re all grown up aren’t we? (Or should I say wee!) Thank God we’re not doing Shopping And F**king. They must have had a bleeding nightmare with that show!

But please, rest assured, our show is a musical comedy. Dark? Yes. Challenging? I should bloody well hope so. But for those of you who enjoy the musical theatre genre, it’s all here on show. There are even a few jazz hands (deeply ironic ones for sure – but they are very much there!). 

The posters have gone up in tube stations. It’s intriguing to watch people’s reactions as they walk past. Their attention is certainly caught, followed by a furrowed brow and a double take and sometimes the odd giggle!

So, with Monday evening’s rehearsal slowly sinking into mild hysteria, helped no doubt by eating too many E numbers, Tuesday’s feels like we have been run over. But we plough on! 

We are running longer sections of the show and so, as a result, I am getting to see the scenes I am not in. There is some brilliant stuff happening – genuinely funny and at times chilling. It’s making me feel very excited about getting the show in front of an audience.

The singing teacher Mary King has been coming in to work with some of the actors in the show and Alan Williams, our Musical Director, offered me a couple of sessions with her. Now, for some reason, I’ve always been fearful of having singing lessons. I had group lessons at school and also saw the fantastic Mark Meylan when I was going to take Sunday In The Park With George to Broadway, mostly to check that I wasn’t doing anything that would damage my voice and to learn some good warm-up techniques. 

I really don’t understand my reticence as the sessions with him were always invaluable. I guess deep down I feel really embarrassed about making so much noise in front of people as I find the act of singing such a private and vulnerable thing. I never sing out at home and have to gird my loins to do auditions and rehearsals. 

I had heard so many good things about Mary King from actors she has helped in the past that I didn’t think twice about accepting the chance to work with her. She is extraordinary; showing me ways to sing without causing any undue strain and how to breathe correctly. Thank you, Mary!

We managed three runs of the show at the end of the week that went really well. The final one was attended by our producers and our brilliant composer Mark Hollman. They must have liked it as no-one got the sack! (Always a good thing this late in the proceedings!) Then to finish off a brilliant rehearsal period, on Saturday afternoon we did our sitzprobe.

For those of you who don’t know what a sitzprobe is, it’s every musical theatre actor’s favourite moment when the rehearsal room gets taken over by the band and we get to hear and sing along with the orchestrations for the first time. Our orchestrations are by the stupidly talented Bruce Coughlin and, although it’s unheard of, we have a bigger band than the Broadway production did. Our band sounds amazing!

So, we have come to the end of rehearsals and I’m proud of our crazy show. It’s filled with wit, energy and a Duracell Bunny of a cast that give every moment 100% commitment, humour and unending joy. There is not one weak link in any department with everyone pulling their weight and then some. Brilliant, all of ‘em!

The next step is to move our cast, band, stage management, creative team and crew (around 50 of us in all) into the tiny but perfectly formed St James Theatre for tech week, culminating with our first audience on Saturday night… We cannot wait!

I do hope you can come to see our weird and wonderful cautionary tale of love, revolution, environmental catastrophe and the perils of privatisation! Hail Malthus!

"I’ve never had an issue with the title of our show.I’ve always thought it was funny and a really clever play on words. We’re all grown up aren’t we?"