Urine for a good time

SCAD raises the seat for Urinetown: The Musical

Michael Sterling Miller and Laura Spears head the cast of Urinetown.

Old habits — especially the necessary ones — die hard.

Unfortunately for those who inhabit the not-too-distant future of Urinetown: The Musical, a 20-year drought has led to a critical shortage of water. Toilets are at a premium — in fact, they're all corporate-owned "amenities," and it's become a pay-to-pee society.

In SCAD's production of Urinetown, Michael Sterling Miller plays Bobby Strong, a young, disgruntled amenities worker who leads a rebellion against said corporation, UGC (Urine Good Company). He intends to flush them away for good.

Bobby and the rest of the cast sing, dance and act their way through one of the most unusual musical comedies ever to grace the Broadway stage (Urinetown won three Tony Awards, including Best Score and Best Book for a Musical, in 2002).

The show, says director Michael Wainstein, satirizes "that epic, in-your-face, 1940s, 1950s kind of theater. But it's also a satire of Les Miz, it's a satire of Evita, those big sung-through musicals. It's a satire of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. It sort of runs the gamut."

SCAD's chair of performing arts and production design, Wainstein is joined in the Urinetown brain trust by musical director Kevin Wallace, a two-time Carbonell award winner.

It's a young cast — many of them were just kiddies when the Mark Hollman/Greg Kotis musical took its first tenuous steps onstage, in 2001 at the New York International Fringe Festival.

In rehearsals, Wainstein says, "We spent a lot of time on the style of performance. That's a tough row to hoe for a lot of the students, how to do this kind of stuff. It's really a parody of a specific performance style, the Bertold Brecht epic theater performance style.

"Also, a lot of Broadway musicals are sort of alluded to. So we deal with all that stuff, trying to get them to understand what that means and how to translate that to the parody that is the show. And, how do you keep it believable? How do you keep the characters real, but at the same time find the humor that was the intention of the writers?"

Their intention, it's pretty obvious from watching Urinetown, was to create an uproariously funny musical pastiche that also makes us squirm in our seats.

From Bobby Strong to toilet titan Caldwell B. Cladwell, from freedom-fighting Little Sally to nutball enforcement officers Lockstock and Barrel, these are people who are, in their own way, fighting for what they believe in a stained porcelain universe. Each answers to a slightly different call of nature.

For Wainsten, the message is "that there is no right and wrong — everybody believes that they're out there doing the best they can do.

"But sometimes greed misleads people, and takes them away from their good intentions. At the expense of those that are affected by their decisions. I guess that's really the best way to think about it."

And while you're thinking about it, think about this: There is no town called Urinetown. It's actually the place where the police go to relieve themselves of troublemakers.

About The Author

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.
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