When Urinetown first played the New York Fringe Festival in 2001, it became one of the most buzz-worthy musicals to hit the Big Apple in years. With an outrageous original story by Greg Kottis and music by Mark Hollmann, the story details a city in the midst of a dire water shortage and an all-powerful corporation that has put a ban on private toilets.
The laugh-out-loud musical made it to Broadway that same year, and walked away with the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. And Constellation Theatre Company is staging it to open their 10th anniversary season.
Director Allison Arkell Stockman notes that it’s exciting to be running Urinetown in the heart of the nation’s capitol right before a major election.
“So much of what is happening right now in America resonates with the themes of the show: powerful, greedy corporations with sway over corrupt politicians, a populist revolution of the 99 percent who want their voices to be heard, and police brutality that is sanctioned by the elite,” she says. “The very premise of Urinetown—an environmental disaster leading to extreme drought and the rationing of water—feels very close to home during one of the hottest summers on record.”
Although she never saw the Broadway musical, Stockman was familiar with the show, having seen a college production at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015.
“It was a fun, educational production with a huge cast of college students,” she says. “The show was already on Constellation’s short list for future projects.
Being that last season’s Avenue Q was the theater’s most successful show to date, selling out every performance, it was a no-brainer to schedule a show that had a similar sense of humor.
“Urinetown has many of the same qualities that are hallmarks of Constellation’s brand: an epic story in an intimate space, live music, incredible visual design, and ensemble acting that is larger than life,” Stockman says. “We’re also committed to doing at least one comedy a season because we love to bring joy and laughter to the world.”
The show seems to be a favorite of late. A quick glance at the theater season in the DC area finds no less than three different versions of the musical scheduled. Stockman doesn’t know much about the other productions, but believes that Constellation’s version will excite audiences.
“Ours is set in the not-too-distant future in a world of salt and grit. All of the elements of the visual design use contrasts between bright, vibrant colors and muted, distressed, monochrome tones,” she says. “What really defines a production are the people who create it and we have a stellar cast and creative team. A.J. Guban, our managing director, is also the awesome scenic and lighting designer. This is the 26th show we’ve been a director-designer team.”
Urinetown: The Musical
closes October 9, 2016
Details and tickets
“I love the many references to other shows from Les Mis and West Side Story to Hamlet. (Old Man Strong’s last words, as well as one of his ghost appearances, is the same as Hamlet’s father – “Remember me”),” Stockman says. “The story is incredibly relevant to 2016 and it’s certainly a key reason artists want to do it now.”
The story follows a love-struck young man, Bobby Strong, who becomes the leader of a revolution. Playing Bobby is Vaughn Ryan Midder, who Stockman first worked with on Avenue Q.
“He’s a terrific performer and does a great job of balancing the humor and the heart of the show,” she says. “He’s a pleasure to collaborate with and I love his attention to the detailed moment-to-moment work of the show. Having an African-American actor playing Bobby Strong also intensifies the character’s relationship with the cops, who are played by two white actors in our production. The visuals reflect our country’s ongoing struggle with race and violence.”
Katie Keyser plays Hope Cladwell, the object of Bobby’s affection.
“Katie brings a lot of clever wit to this show and in her hands the character goes through an amazing arc from naïve, but very sweet, idealism to vengeance and power,” Stockman says. “Both Bobby and Hope experience a huge transformation through meeting each other.”
The director also calls Matt Dewberry and Jenna Berk “comedy geniuses” as the Officer Lockstock and Little Sally duo.
“Their chemistry is just amazing and they do a great job interacting with the audience,” she says. “I love having these two stars from Avenue Q back with us to launch our 10th Anniversary season.”
After its first week of performances, Stockman notes audiences were leaving talking about what a great time they had, how funny the show was, how much they loved the music, the dancing and the acting—but they were also disturbed.
“The end of the play has very happy music, but the message is about how we’re destroying our planet by not planning for the future, and in fact we’re bringing about our own future extinction,” she says. “That dichotomy of pleasure and important ideas is wonderful. I think it would make Brecht proud.”
Bill Duncan says
Urinetown won best Direction not Best musical. Thoroughly Modern Millie won best musical that year.