Waiting in line at the bathroom is nothing new, be it at a roadside gas station, a loud college bar, or a stuffy Broadway theatre hall. But what if you had to pay for the pleasure? That’s the premise of Urinetown: The Musical, the latest Village Playhouse production.
“Basically, you have to pay to pee,” says producer Keely Enright.
Some musicals may go for the flowery title (The Sound of Music) while others go for the mysterious (The Phantom of the Opera), but few can boast that their title turned human waste into a municipality and ran with it.
“My thought was, ‘What an awful name for a play,'” Enright says, thinking back to the first time she’d heard the title. “But it’s brilliant, brilliant theatre.”
Set in a Gotham-like town plagued by a 20-year drought, the musical follows the plight of a band of rabble-rousers as they try to break the system so they can pee for free. You see, the lack of water created a market for toilets and where there’s a market, there’s usually a corrupt overlord ruling it with an iron fist. In this case, that’s Caldwell B. Cladwell and the Urine Good Co., which owns the public restrooms and won’t let anybody “go” unless they say so.
The name aside, the show has been praised for avoiding bathroom humor while poking good-natured fun at other musicals. It’s been billed as “a shameless musical that spoofs shameless musicals.”
“If we succeed at anything, it’s at gently poking fun at the genre itself,” Enright says.
Directed by Maida Libkin, Urinetown is the final show of the Playhouse’s season, running straight into Piccolo. For the past three years, the Playhouse has taken one of their fall shows and remounted it for Spoleto, but this year they decided to reduce the stress and start the show off with a few pre-Spoleto offerings for locals and Playhouse members. Enright says the response has been phenomenal.
Urinetown was set to make its debut on Broadway on Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks delayed the premiere by about 10 days and had the theatre world anxiously waiting to see if the audience would come back. They did, showing that in the nation’s darkest days, we still need a good laugh. The show went on to win three Tony Awards.
“It was the perfect new show for New York at that point,” Enright says.
Parallels could be drawn between the show and corporate America or “big brother,” but it’s the terrific music audiences will likely remember the most, Enright says.
“You might have these social issues to think about, but what you’ll really be doing is humming the music on the way home,” she says.
The songs include the tent-preacher send up “Run Freedom Run” that is, hands down, the highlight of the show, along with “Don’t Be the Bunny,” and, of course, “Urinetown.”
“It’s really just one after another,” Enright says. She’s talking about the songs, not the bathroom line at intermission … we hope.
URINETOWN: THE MUSCIAL • Piccolo Spoleto’s Theatre Series • $24; $22 seniors/students • (2 hours 10 min.) • May 25, 31, June 1, 7, 8, at 8 p.m.; May 26, 27, June 2, 3, 9, at 7 p.m. • Village Playhouse, 730 Coleman Blvd. • 554-6060