This season’s opener at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre already has the student cast singing praise for its self-depreciating parody, sharp commentary and… toilet humor.
“Urinetown,” the highly-acclaimed winner of the 2002 “Best Original Score” Tony Award, is the newest production by the Department of Theatre Arts.
A satire on rose-colored musicals, the plot is set in a futuristic totalitarian society where water shortages have led the government to impose taxes on citizens for using the bathroom. Fed up with a hike on the fee to pee, citizens start a revolution.
Lynn McNutt, director of the musical, said that the popularity of “Urinetown” is a bit of an accident, as its writers, Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, originally intended to make more of a shock than a success.
“It’s kind of like a ‘South Park’ episode, where they were like, ‘Let’s write a musical that we know nobody’s going to produce because we kind of went there…’” McNutt said.
The performance, which showcases characters using the bathroom on stage and numerous shameless puns (an emboldening anthem for the “free pee” society called “I See a River,” for example), isn’t all just one big coarse joke on sanguine musicals, however. There is meaning behind the indecency.
Evoking some of the conservationist philosophy of Thomas Malthus, “Urinetown” also implicitly prods at the way societies waste resources by confounding audience expectations of a fabulous ending.
“It’s a really fun way to look at a serious issue,” said junior Elizabeth Nestlerode, a BFA major who plays Soupy Sue, a poor citizen who joins the rebellion. “You don’t really think about the environmental message until the end, where you’re like, ‘Oh wait, that’s actually true.’”
The actors, who have been rehearsing since the first day of classes, seem to appreciate both the irreverent comedy and social satire.
“It blatantly makes fun of any theater that’s pretentious,” Nestlerode said. “If you hate musicals, you’ll probably still like this show.“
Two of the more recognizable musicals “Urinetown” indelicately references are “Les Misérables” and “West Side Story.”
“The writers really wrote each song with the flavor of another musical in mind,” McNutt said.
Junior Ryan Phillips, a BFA major who plays Bobby Strong, the inciter of the pee-free revolution said, “It’s not a happy musical, but that’s the point, and I think people get it; it’s just impossible to not have fun.”
The musical received positive reviews when it premiered on Broadway in September 2001. Some critics even suggested that it may have won the Tony for best musical if not for its off-color title.
“A lot of times when [the college] generation thinks of musicals, they think of Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘Oklahoma’ and all that stuff my parents like,” McNutt said. “[‘Urinetown’] plays to the irreverent humor this generation likes.”
Urinetown opens in the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre Wednesday and runs until Oct. 9 with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays.
David Sargent may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO:
When: Sept. 29- Oct. 9
Where: Jerry Herman Ring Theatre
For ticket prices log onto www.as.miami.edu/theatrearts/ring