‘Urinetown’: ‘Les mis’ with pee

Cast members of ‘Urinetown’ perform at the dress rehearsal Wednesday evening.

In a world where corporations rule and water is scarce, relieving one’s own bladder has become something of a privilege. Pay to pee or be carted off to the mysterious Urinetown, never to be heard from again.

This is the backdrop of the latest Mainstage musical being put on by Eastern Michigan University and directed by Pirooz Aghssa, “Urinetown.” Self-aware and witty, this satirical production from Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann, which opened on Broadway in 2001, combines humor with a cast of memorable characters and a plot that feels uniquely relevant in a generation weary of big businesses and rising prices.

“In every way, shape and form, this is a satire,” senior and dance major Amber Lawson said. “So in every line, in every song, in every moment of the show, it is starting to spin a comedy off of an old play, an old musical or something in the government, perhaps.”

The play opens with a queue of poor folks waiting to use Public Amenity #9, run by the greedy corporation known as Urine Good Company and operated by ruthless Penelope Pennywise and her young assistant Bobby Strong. After watching his father get taken away for refusing to pay the toilet toll, Bobby organizes an uprising with the underprivileged masses, who are understandably pissed (pun definitely intended).

The audience is guided into this crapsack of a world by Officer Lockstock, portrayed by grad student Rick Eva, and the inquisitive Little Sally, played by Lawson. Their exchanges throughout the production often prod into the fourth wall, beginning right from the exposition. Because, as Officer Lockstock said, “Nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.”

“I like when I talk to the audience,” Eva said, “and I do it a lot. At the top of the show, I come out and I’m the first one that talks to them and at the end of the show, I’m the last one that talks to them.”

Considering that the show is a musical, much of the story is told through song. A few highlights include the sweet “Follow Your Heart,” from Bobby and heroine Hope, the raucous “Snuff the Girl,” performed by the rebel poor, and the appropriately titled “Cop Song,” sung by Eva as Officer Lockstock and junior theatre major Michael Herman as Officer Barrel.

“There’s something for everybody in this show because there’s so much going on,” Herman said.
“Each of the songs has their own little flavor. They parody different musicals, each of the songs.”

This clever satire has more to offer than a few catchy tunes, though.

“I would say the theme of the show is more or less how rich people or [people in] government positions can use their money to take what they want from us,” Lawson said. “The right to pee, something that we use every day, that we don’t really think about how lucky we are that we can just use a toilet. In the same respect, taking it to that extreme, instead of our rights to drink, our rights to smoke, our rights to whatever, taking that right to pee away is like a whole new level.”

Many of the themes relayed in “Urinetown” are not new. In fact, a few people have drawn comparisons to a certain other beloved musical with a recent film adaptation.

As sound crew member Matt Pullen, a junior and electronic media and film studies major, said,
“The show is basically ‘Les Mis’ with pee.”

Will the rebels finally get to pee for free, and if they do, will it be everything they had hoped for?
Find out by catching one of the remaining shows at the Quirk Theatre at 10 p.m. on Feb. 21, 7 p.m. on Feb. 22 and 23 or 2 p.m. on Feb. 24. Tickets range in price between $7 and $15.

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