Urinetown the Musical – honestly

Mount Baker Wild Theatre unleashing some comedic agitprop at the KCT in May.

Carter Gulseth

It’s 2014. The world has changed considerably in the last century. The earth is home to some seven billion people, and that number is expected to balloon to nine billion by 2050. With the melting of the polar ice caps, global warming has become a household phrase.

Our outlook isn’t bleak yet, but it’s steadily becoming obscured by the smog. It seems only appropriate, then, that during a new age of ecological scrutiny, Mount Baker Wild Theatre should stage a production of Urinetown the Musical.

Wait … it’s called … what?

No, no: that really is the title. The show, which was written in 2001 by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, is everything from a comedy, to an agitprop, to a satire. The plot unfolds in a dystopian future; a 20-year-long water shortage has rendered private toilets unthinkable. People pay to get their business done by way of “public amenities,” or public toilets.

The musical follows the story of Bobby Strong, a young amenity worker who revolts against the powers that be in order to free the enslaved bladders of the land.

The production was inspired when Greg Kotis, the book-writer, took a tour of Europe. At the time a student on a budget, Kotis was fascinated by his encounters with pay toilets. He brainstormed the idea of a story that centred around a world in which the most seemingly base of needs was governed by cash. Mark Hollman soon came aboard to write the score, and the show was on its way to Broadway.

Perhaps not surprisingly, if one takes the brilliant score and hilarious book into account, the show was a smash hit; it ran for 25 previews, and 965 performances. Urinetown eventually won Tony awards for best book of a musical, and best original score, not to mention a nomination for best musical.

Yes, we’ll admit that the title is, perhaps, a little unconventional. We’ve been asked if we’re joking, or to clarify if the title is actually “You’re in Town.” Considering the seeming nonsense of the show, it hasn’t been unusual for people to flatly dismiss Urinetown as inevitably atrocious. To some, the idea of a show whose subject matter is fecal matter sounds plainly impossible. It is the antithesis of what people have come to expect from a Broadway show, and it is a musical that, by all reasonable logic, should not succeed. Logic, thank heaven, rarely touches the theatre.

Urinetown manages to combine uproarious humour with an implausible plotline, all the while exploring what our society has come to justify as necessity. It is a not-so-gentle reminder of what flippancy towards our ecosystem can do, but it is also raucously entertaining, and not to be missed.

If a Broadway musical can be classified as an underdog, this one certainly fits the bill. But, just as in any daring dramatic scenario, the underdog becomes the unlikely hero. Urinetown is a wickedly funny, charmingly resonant, and unexpectedly important show. Join us in celebrating its hilarity, and all it stands for. It’s one hell of a ride. Honestly.

Urinetown runs at the Key City Theatre, May 8to 10 (showtime 7:30 p.m.) and May 11 (showtime 2 p.m.).

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