Don't Judge a Musical by Its Title...
This coming March, the THS Theatre Program will be producing Urinetown – The Musical. It is a comedic satire, with an admittedly terrible title, that poses the question, what if water supplies were so scarce that people had to pay to pee? All bets are off, because the results are totally charming. Urinetown is one-part slapstick comedy, one-part classic musical and another part (wait for it) Brechtian allegory.
The 2001 satirical musical had its start at the New York Fringe Festival, then moved to off-Broadway, eventually arriving on Broadway, where it ran for three years and almost 1,000 performances, earning 10 Tony Award nominations and winning 3. It’s a show that both makes fun of musical conventions and employs them for all they’re worth. It’s a musical that smirks and winks at the audience, but never stops believing that this might turn out to be a good show.
It’s set in a theatrical imaginary “everytown.” There’s been a 20-year drought, and water is such a precious resource that all private toilets are shut down, and people, even the poor, are forced to pay for the privilege of using public facilities. This set-up is masterminded by Caldwell B. Cladwell, the evil president and owner of the Urine Good Company, and resisted by the young hero Bobby Strong, assistant custodian at the poorest urinal in town, who falls in love with Cladwell’s daughter Hope and ultimately leads a rebellion against the system.
The story is narrated by Officer Lockstock and Little Sally, who seem meta-conscious of its problems, commenting on the “terrible title,” the awful concept, and even the audience’s presumed desire to leave early. Along the way, we get micro-spoofs of everything from the “Thriller” video to other musicals such as Les Miserables and West Side Story.
Urinetown won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re totally put off by the title, you might choose to simply trust your instincts. But fans of comedy and other musical satires such as Spamalot or The Little Shop of Horrors will undoubtedly, um, want to go while they still can.