Urine good company

UT Urinetown practice

It’s a story you’ve heard before: boy from the wrong side of the tracks meets girl from the right side, they fall in love at first sight and sing about it. Will their slightly misguided yet genuine love conquer all?

Of course, there are parts you haven’t heard: boy is inspired to take over the town's pay-to-pee toilet facilities and kidnaps girl as collateral—and, oh, the whole shebang is a farce on the nature of musical theater.

Expect no less in Urinetown, a Tony Award–winning musical written by Mark Hollman, AB'85, and Greg Kotis, AB'88. The play was performed the last two weekends by the University of Chicago’s University Theater. It might have betrayed its Chicago origins a bit—few audiences likely laugh as uproariously at gags about Malthus, Hume, the free market, and the nature of metaphysics. At one point the villainous father, Caldwell B. Cladwell (Augie Praley, ’09), asks his painfully sincere daughter, Hope (Molly Zeins, ’09), “Did I send you to the most expensive university in the world to teach you how to feel conflicted, or to learn how to manipulate great masses of people?”

The play is framed by dialogue between Lil’ Sally (Amanda Jacobson, ’12), a poor child who counts her coins to use the toilet and asks questions like, “What about hydraulics?” and Officer Lockstock (Morgan Maher, ’09), who answers deadpan, “In a musical, sometimes it’s better to focus on just one thing.”

On Friday evening the 16-person cast performed to a packed house in the Francis X. Kinahan Third Floor Theater. Kotis and Hollman were in the audience, surveying the work of the students and Jeffrey Award–nominated theater professional Jonathan Berry, whom UT brought in to direct this show. Berry hand-picked a professional design staff, who worked with student apprentices to create the eerie, dirt-encrusted setting. The cast threw itself wholeheartedly into numbers about the inanity of most revolutionary discourse—see the initials of our hero, Bobby Strong (Lucas Whitehead, ’09)—and what can happen if water is mismanaged to the point of absolute scarcity. Although Urinetown may have, as Lil’ Sally puts it, “happy songs,” the moral is anything but.

Rose Schapiro, ’09

Molly Zeins, ’09 (Hope), and Lucas Whitehead, ’09 (Bobby), sing together during rehearsal in late February.

Photo by Dan Dry.

March 16, 2009