One of the most uproariously funny musicals in recent years, URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL is a hilarious tale of greed, corruption, love, and revolution in a time when water is worth its weight in gold. In a Gotham-like city, a terrible water shortage, caused by a 20-year draught, has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. The citizens must use public amenities, regulated by a single malevolent company that profits by charging admission for one of humanity's most basic needs. Amid the people, a hero decides he's had enough, and plans a revolution to lead them all to freedom! Inspired by the works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL is an irreverently humorous satire in which no one is safe from scrutiny. Praised for reinvigorating the very notion of what a musical could be, URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL catapults the "comedic romp" into the new millennium with its outrageous perspective, wickedly modern wit, and sustained ability to produce gales of unbridled laughter.
About NSU Theatre's Production
The cast for NSU's production of URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL is as follows: Cory Niles will play the leader of the revolution Bobby Strong; Shanon Patek is cast as Hope, his love-interest and the daughter of UGC president Caldwell P. Cladwell, who will be portrayed by Phil Coghlan, Adam Karal Sahli will play the narrator and keeper of the peace Officer Lockstock who is assisted by Officer Barrel played by Matthew Sides, Kellyanne Kirkland plays Penelope Pennywise who is the manager of Amenity #9 and who holds a deep secrets in her past; Brian Warzeha and Elias Rostad are cast as Mr. McQueen and Senator Fipp two men in the "employ" of Cladwell, while Darcy Brandenburg, Jesse Adams, Randy Johnson, Ray Zakrzewski, Young-Jin Park, Valerie Tescher, Sara Pillatzki-Warzeha, Kristine deBilzan, Bonny Athy, Alyssa Carlson, Eunjin Lee, Samantha Banner, Shawn McNealy, Huimin Feng and Lindsey Dosch round out the company of 24 NSU students for this musical.
NSU Director of Theatre, Daniel Yurgaitis, directs and choreographs the play and the scenic and lighting design will be by NSU Technical Director, Larry Wild. Music faculty members Raouf Zaidan and Robert Vodnoy will be Vocal and Music Directors respectively for URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL. Students Matthew Sides and Angela Nguyen will be designing the costumes, Angela Nguyen will be Assistant Choreographer, while the entire production will be stage managed by student Amber Noble assisted by Heather Morris.
URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL will be presented for three performances, October 19, 20 and 21 at 7:30 pm nightly in the Johnson Fine Arts Center on the campus of NSU. Advance tickets are $11.00 and $10.00 for students and seniors. Tickets increase $2.00 at the door. There are group rates available for groups of 10 or more. All seats are reserved and tickets will be available in the NSU bookstore beginning on Tuesday, October 7, or by mail. Call the NSU Bookstore at 626- 2655 or the NSU Department of Theatre at 626-2563 for additional information.
About the Playwrights
GREG KOTIS (book and lyrics) is a veteran of the Neo-Futurists, creators of the long-running, on-going attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes entitled TOO MUCH LIGHT MAKES THE BABY GO BLIND. JOBEY AND KATHERINE, his play about fish, toast and a love stronger and grimmer than death, enjoyed runs in New York and Chicago in 1997. as a member of the Cardiff Giant Theater Company in Chicago, he appeared in countless anarchic improvisations and co-authored six plays including LBJFKKK, LOVE ME and AFTERTASTE (THE MUSICAL). He holds a B.A. in political Science from the University of Chicago. He won 2002 Tony awards for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score for URINETOWN.
About the Play
The Idea for URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL
The idea for URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL first came to me during what might generously be described as a poorly planned trip to Europe during the late winter/early spring of 1995. On our return flight, I decided to extend an overnight layover in Paris to spend two weeks bumming around Western Europe by myself, to see the sights, and also try to decide whether I would propose to my girlfriend. For some reason, I thought $300 would cover my expenses, and …I ran out of money almost immediately. What I had intended to be a meditative, economy-style backpacker excursion through the capitals of France, Germany, England, and Spain quickly devolved into a grim test of endurance, (with) the defining question … "How can I not spend any money until I can reclaim my ticket to the States and go home?" For me, the answer involved sleeping in the train stations, eating cheap but belly-filling foods, and, strangely enough, avoiding going to the bathroom as much as possible.
I stood there on the sidewalk for a moment or two, thinking the thing through. The notion seemed like a patently awful one, grand and ridiculous, a career (such as it was) ending embarrassment. And yet, at its core, it would also be a grand, ridiculous reflection of the world as we know it to be, complete with rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, a government controlled by industry and an industry that exists apart from and above us all. And driving it all would be the disaster, in this case the drought, a fact that trumped all the other facts: the love, the rage, the greed, everything. It would be a musical, yes, a very big musical, and it would be called URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL. It might not be performed, but it would be called URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL, and it would take place in a town where everybody had to pay to pee. Such is the thinking that comes from being too homesick, too broke, and too full of belly-filling foods, while inhibiting natural bodily functions for too long.
The Writing of Urinetown
Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann, both 1985 graduates of the University of Chicago didn't worry much about their show's crowd-pleasing potential when they wrote URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL. Instead, they wrote a story in which the downtrodden do not triumph, the handsome hero is thrown from a rooftop, and much of the action takes place outside a public toilet.
"What you have to understand," says Kotis, "is that we didn't expect anyone to see it. We had total freedom to write exactly what we wanted, because we fully expected to be performing to audiences of two or three."
Hollmann and Kotis - veterans of Chicago's improv and experimental theater scene - even poke fun at their low expectations in the URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL script, when a wise waif named Little Sally tells the cop-narrator Officer Lockstock: "I don't think too many people are going to come see this musical."
Little Sally's prediction proved wrong. Soon the fringe show that delighted off-off-Broadway audiences moved to Broadway and URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL became a Broadway hit.
Kotis conceived the heart of the story on a drizzly afternoon in Paris in 1995, when the 29-year-old struggling actor found himself short of cash at the end of a solo backpacking trip.
That day, he was wandering near the Luxembourg Gardens, ruminating about the story of Hemingway trapping pigeons in the park for food. "Off in the distance, shrouded in the mist, I saw one of these pay toilets. I had been thinking very seriously of going to the bathroom." Then again, Kotis thought, maybe he could hold off and save the 2 1/2 francs for dinner. As he considered his choice, he got the idea for a musical in which private toilets are banned, and rich and poor alike must pay to answer nature's call. Kotis "saw the show in a flash. I knew it had to be a musical. I knew it had to be dark and ridiculous and absurd." The title came in a similar flash.
That rainy afternoon in Paris, Kotis was weeks away from leaving Chicago to start a New York branch of the Neo-Futurists company, and he immediately thought of Hollmann as a collaborator. He'd teamed up with Hollmann before on six shows with the Cardiff Giant ensemble, beginning when Kotis was a fourth-year and Hollmann was two years out of college. Watching musicals as a regular at Doc Films had emboldened Hollmann to switch his major from political science to music, and he staged his first musical, KABOOOOOM!, at Black Friars.
When he and Kotis tackled the URINETOWN project in earnest in 1997, they created a drought-stricken city. To conserve water (and generate cash flow), an evil tycoon aided by corrupt politicians controls "public amenities." It costs money to pee, and it's even more costly not to pay. Anyone peeing en plein air is "disappeared" to the mysterious Urinetown. Although the musical incorporates stock plot elements (good vs. evil, star-crossed lovers), Kotis and Hollmann don't allow the audience to lose itself in the fantasy: the characters repeatedly mention that they're staging a show. When Little Sally suggests to Officer Lockstock that a musical about a drought should touch on hydraulics, Lockstock replies, "Sometimes-in a musical-it's better to focus on one big thing rather than a lot of little things. The audience tends to be much happier that way. And it's easier to write." The aim of this self-referential style, Kotis says, is to break down the wall between audience and actors, to convey that "we know that you know that we know that you know that this is a show."
Hollmann decides to write a score that would range from sweet to rousing to menacing while Hollmann's music pays homage to the musical's potential to transport its audience, URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL's lyrics and plot puncture those expectations.
Hollmann remembers, "As composer and lyricist for our brand-new collaboration, I had two immediate tasks: to start setting a tone or style for the music of the score and to find the places in Greg's script that could be turned into songs. Although Greg eventually joined me in writing lyrics, I always felt that spotting songs was mainly my job. At this point, in the late spring of 1996, not much of a script existed, and Greg would not complete a full first draft until late 1997. From the first few pages he gave me, however, I was able to get a handle on a style and could easily spot a terrific song opportunity.
"It came in a scene early in Act I, wherein we meet Penelope Pennywise, a hard-bitten matron of the filthiest urinal in town. In this moment she is reading the riot act to the downtrodden customers of her Public Amenity #9. It reminded me of a song from The Three Penny Opera, the 1928 musical theater masterpiece by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. The song is "The Morning Hymn of Peachum," Mr. Peachum's wake-up call to his company of beggars. Brecht's opening lyrics for Peachum, which translate as "Wake up, you rotting Christians," and which Weill set with a craftily repetitive melody and droning accompaniment, convey to me a man long convinced that the world is a fraud and wearily resigned to his place in it.
"Like Ms. Pennywise, Peachum is delivering the message that all is not right in the world, and as he does, we understand that he would rather deliver this message than hear it himself. I made Pennywise's "It's a Privilege to Pee" faster and more martial than Peachum's "Morning Hymn," but the stark, unapologetically dim worldview of Peachum helped me believe that Penny's song was possible. In both cases, it is the singer's righteous duty to tell the truth as they see it, and to lay down the law, hard.
"When I finished a first draft of the music and lyrics of "It's a Privilege to Pee," I called Greg and invited him to hear it. We met at Christ Lutheran Church on East Nineteenth Street in Manhattan, where I served as organist. Sitting at the piano in the sanctuary, amid stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible and tile mosaics portraying the saints, I played and sang Penny's rant, which got Greg laughing in appreciation. Laughter would become a barometer for us: if I laughed spontaneously at Greg's writing or he at mine, whatever got us laughing would usually stay in the show. That evening, I could tell from Greg's laughter that this song clicked with his vision for URINETOWN and that we were on to something."
Working together on the show Sunday afternoons in Christ Lutheran Church in Manhattan, where Hollmann was organist, the two men focused on constructing the musical, not on how far it would go.
"Mark and I come from a tradition in which you come up with a show and you do it," explains Kotis. "Doing it means getting your friends together and renting a space, usually a black box or a storefront. You send out press releases, you try to get listed, and you have a mailing party. Hopefully you don't lose too much money. And you hope you get a review and that someone says something nice about you, and you're one step closer to making a living in theater full time."
Kotis and Hollmann were New Yorkers by then, but they created URINETOWN with a spirit owing more to the communal culture of Second City than to the ethos of New York City - there, Kotis says "it's about talent making its way on its own."
While working their day jobs (Kotis as a location scout for TV and films, Hollmann still processing words), they finished the show, and early in 1998 found singers to record a demo in the church. Compensation was a copy of the tape. Because renting a storefront costs too much in New York, Hollmann and Kotis sent inquiries to more than 100 agents, theaters, and development organizations-enclosing the script, or the tape, or a synopsis, sometimes just a pitch letter. No one bit.
Then one summer day in 1998 Kotis described the show to John Clancy, artistic director of the New York International Fringe Festival. What Kotis describes as the team's "incredible luck" kicked in: Clancy liked the concept and encouraged them to apply to the festival. The next spring, Hollmann and Kotis found a cadre of good actors stuck in the city without summer stock jobs who agreed to do 12 performances at the festival for a flat fee of $50 apiece. More good luck ensued. A Canadian troupe slated to do the festival's centerpiece show was blocked by immigration at the border and had to cancel. Then, of 150 shows at the Fringe, URINETOWN snagged the theater most convenient to the ticket booth. The musical was the festival's sold-out hit.
The biggest break came when the playwright David Auburn saw the show there. Auburn, who in 2001 would win a Pulitzer Prize for his drama Proof, waited only until intermission to phone a potential backer for URINETOWN. By winter that producer had joined with three other backers, but the show was delayed for a year while they searched for a theater with the same grungy feel of the former auto repair shop that had housed the show at the Fringe. In spring 2001 URINETOWN opened off-Broadway in a former courtroom. By then the producers had found John Rando to direct and landed musical-theater warhorse, Tony winner, and TV actor John Cullum to play the pay-toilet magnate. During its two-month run the show created buzz and drew crowds, justifying a move to Broadway.
Opening night was slated for September 13.
Their luck seemed to have run out: after the World Trade Center attacks, New York was not likely to embrace what Kotis calls "a doomsday musical." Hollmann recalls, "It looked really bleak at that point, because we weren't a show with a happy ending." But Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's insistence that New York shows go on, and his handout of tickets to public safety workers and people grounded after September 11, proved effective. URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL opened September 20. "It was a wonderful thing to be a part of," says Kotis. "To feel like you were being rescued by your fellow citizens and also offering them a place to come together."
Success is bittersweet for Hollmann. "We can never go back to a storefront. Part of that is sad. I think of all the people we've known, we've struggled with. It's amazing to me that we've had a different magnitude of experience than they have." He frets that winning a Tony will "make people say 'yes' to me all the time," but he expects that his partnership with Kotis will provide the antidote. "We still have each other to differ with." Kotis views the very fact of URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL's Broadway production as a gift. "We won the lottery," he says. There's yet more proof in the script that the writers didn't expect success. Early in the show, Officer Lockstock interrupts Little Sally's attempt to explain the plot to the audience.
Officer Lockstock: You're too young to understand it now, but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.
Little Sally: How about bad subject matter? Or a bad title, even. That could kill a show pretty good.
As it turned out, the joke is on Kotis and Hollmann: URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL is alive and well.
Urinetown: The Musical about the Privileges of Peeing
On the eve of its opening at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco (where it would begin its successful national tour), Robert Wilder Blue spoke with Mr. Hollmann about his life before URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL. "I was born in Belleville, Illinois," he confessed, "which is in southern Illinois near St. Louis, Missouri. I went to public grade school in Fairview Heights and high school in Belleville. Both my parents were school teachers. My father also plays the guitar and sings. He writes parodies of songs for various environmental and other political issues he is involved with in Illinois. He is into legalizing hemp-not marijuana, but the plant hemp. He gets on the local TV stations as a activist. I must have inherited whatever sense of humor he has that gets him to do that.
"I think music was the thing I did the most when I was growing up. I have two younger sisters and when we got a piano in the house, everyone started playing it, although I am the only one who remained with it. I was in the school and church choirs and in every band I could get into in public schools. I played the trombone in the marching band, concert band and stage band, which was like a small swing band.
"I went to the University of Chicago with the idea that I would get a law degree and go into politics. But I ended up switching to music as a major midway through my years there. The great thing about the University of Chicago, which is a difficult school, is that it forced me to figure out what I wanted to do in my life because I couldn't just breeze through any course of study there. I realized that music was the constant in my life, and that's when I got interested in composing and writing musicals."
Can writing a good melody be taught and learned or is it an innate talent?
"I think it can be taught. But having lots of good music around you is definitely important too. The music that plays in your head as you're walking around in your daily life is of great influence. I think that singing in church was a great influence on me, too. Hymns are filled with good melodies. I was a church organist for six years and that was interesting because I felt I was getting back to something that was very basic in my musical education."
What were your first musical influences?
"In high school, the band director somehow thought I would be interested in opera and he lent me some opera albums and a Kurt Weill album. The Weill album opened my eyes to Three Penny Opera and that caught my imagination immediately. The opera wasn't as interesting to me, but I did end up listening to a lot of Verdi because the melody is so dramatic with him. I think that had a big influence on me, although I didn't go on to become an opera lover. I see an opera about once a year, so I don't consider that being a real aficionado. But Weill made me start looking into musical theater and how it could be political.
"I don't listen to a lot of pop music. I feel that it's not the greatest influence on people who are trying to learn the craft or art of composing. Because I was kind of a nerdy kid growing up, I was more interested in Gershwin and big band music than the Top Forty. And I listened to operas, Carmen and Otello and others. There's another side of this too, which is that I grew up watching MGM musicals on TV. I remember seeing Singing in the Rain when I was thirteen or fourteen and I thought that was terrific."
Did you express an interest in musical theater while at the University of Chicago?
"I didn't even go that far. I thought that I would be an outcast if I mentioned it so I didn't even bring it up. But that is typical of my personality. I just assumed that no one would be encouraging about it so I didn't assert myself. Plus, it was beside the point then. There was so much to learn in the fundamentals of harmony, orchestration, counterpoint and other theory.
"One nice thing that happened when I graduated from University of Chicago was that I won a small cash award as a result of my acting roles in the college theater. It enabled me to not get a job for six months and so beginning in November 1985, I started writing my first musical. The musical ended up taking a year-and-a-half and I took a job as a file clerk in a medical clinic to support myself, but it ended up getting a production at the student theater at the University of Chicago in the spring of 1987. It was called KABOOOOOM! I wrote it with a playwright, Mary DeSalle Kevern, who kindly adapted her two-act comedy into a musical-comedy book. Without knowing anything about musicals really, except what I had seen of them through movies and a few amateur productions, we got it on stage. It was not very good, but it was an important first step for me. A musician friend who listened to the first draft commented that I must love Rodgers and Hammerstein. I didn't really think that I did, but I suppose it's true. We sang medleys of Rodgers and Hammerstein scores in high school choir and played transcriptions in band, so I guess that was the influence. Another influence that occurs to me, especially with KABOOOOOM!, is the musical Lil' Abner. Its composer, Gene DePaul, also wrote the score to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which I think is a great sort of country/western score with not an unhummable tune in it.
"Going forward, my next show was COMPLAINING WELL, based on an ancient Greek comedy, The Dyskolos (The Grouch), by Menander. At that time I was listening to Stephen Sondheim and was very much influenced by A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. So I was writing in more staccato rhythms and I was definitely aping Sondheim as a lyricist in those days because I was trying very hard to be clever, especially with the comedy lyrics I was writing. But I was coming under the influence of William Russo at that time and he recommended against listening to Sondheim. I don't remember if he told me the reasoning behind his advice, but now I understand. I really respect Sondheim in all ways. He is without parallel among contemporary musical theater writers. However, I think Bill was telling me that Sondheim was not the one to follow as a melodist, even though he has come up with some great melodies. I took the advice and started paying more attention to strict melody. I had this thing that I jokingly called "pianoitis." It was the instrument I grew up with and I think as a composer I was very influenced by the piano. That comes with a trap of playing full chords with both hands and having all this sound come out that has nothing to do with melody; it's all harmony. Part of what Bill Russo did was to break me of that and to get me back to a single melodic line. That was a revelation for me because I realized that everything comes from that melody line; it's the bones of everything you do as a musical theater composer, so you have to get good at that first.
"The next score I wrote was JACK THE CHIPPER, a murder-mystery musical that was written with a playwright named Nancy Crist, who co-wrote the lyrics with me. There, maybe, I was getting away from Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Sondheim, and I was trying to write a decent musical comedy score. It was actually kind of a mish-mash and it got bad reviews and the production lost all of its investment. That was the story of my life, though, leading up to URINETOWN. If they got produced, it was on an amateur scale.
"To put it together though, by the time I started working with Greg on URINETOWN, I had started working as a church organist and we were meeting in my church after our Sunday services to work on the piece, so I think the church influence was making itself heard in URINETOWN. There's a hymn at the end of it, "I See a River," and there's a gospel number earlier in the second act, which is nothing like the Lutheran church music I was playing, but it was in the ballpark. URINETOWN was the first time I was able to fully bring my choral-writing skills to bear on a score. The grandness of the story in URINETOWN called for ensemble numbers in four-part harmony. When I hear the score now, I think those choral sections provide some of the more thrilling moments. And the subject matter that Greg had come up with definitely brought to mind Weill and The Three Penny Opera and Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock.
"Greg and I first collaborated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when we were both coming of age artistically in our twenties as ensemble members of the Cardiff Giant Theater Company, a now-defunct improvisational theater troupe in Chicago… I think the improv is a vital part of what helped us write URINETOWN.
Your musical influences and experiences are a uniquely American combination: opera, jazz, hymns, Hollywood and Broadway musicals.
"I think there are a lot of things from my background that came together in writing URINETOWN. When I was in Chicago I ended up being sort of a jack-of-all-trades and around the time I turned 30 that was starting to worry me. I was good at a lot of different things and I was not making much of living from any of them. Music jobs were the best I could do and I was paying rent from them. But when I moved to New York, I wanted to get away from being an actor and an improv group member and even a piano player. New York offered me the chance to reinvent myself as a musical theater composer and lyricist."
Is being entertaining important to you?
"It is paramount. I think that is at the top of my list. Holding an audience is totally necessary. I get that in part from my background as an actor. I have spent enough time on stage to know when an audience is with me and when they're not and I have always been worried about that in writing music for the theater. I'm always concerned about what is happening in the moment and whether it has the full attention of the audience and whether it is compelling and is moving the story forward. There has never been a reason for me to look down my nose at being entertaining. I guess I've always worried about not being entertaining. But that goes back to melody-writing also and the importance of writing tunes that people can remember. I strive to develop the melodies so that there is economy in the material and unity in the whole score.
"I have always believed in being able to remember the score you've just heard in the theater. That is an important benchmark for me and that is what I have aspired to. It is an important way of entertaining. On the other hand, you can't worry too much about the audience. One thing Greg is fond of saying about URINETOWN is that we didn't expect anybody to see it. We went through a round of getting thoroughly rejected by producers and agents in 1998 and 1999. Of course, we had hope that someone would find value in it, but our background was as self-producers. We were on the outside in Chicago, in that we had no connections to commercial producers or the large, institutional theaters, so we produced our own shows in storefront theaters. Based on that underground-theater background, we didn't care so much about pleasing a wide segment of a theater audience. But when it comes down to writing a song that is supposed to work in the theater, I think very much about that. Maybe the distinction is that the story we were telling in URINETOWN didn't seem very commercial and we didn't really care about that. At the time I certainly never thought we would sell it to a commercial producer. I assumed we would have to find a nice not-for-profit theater that would be willing to take this strange project under its wing. The irony of it was that commercial producers discovered and optioned and produced it."
Photos from the Original Broadway
and Touring Productions
Old Man Strong, Penelope Pennywise, Bobby Strong and Company
Caldwell B. Caldwell
Officer Lockstock and Little Sally
Officer Lockstock and Company
Bobby Strong and Company
Critical Responses for the Original Production
"A declaration of the power of theatre…a sensational piece of performance art, one that acknowledges theater tradition and pushes it forward as well…. Simply the most gripping and galvanizing theater experience in town. And did I mention that Urinetown is hilarious?"
Bruce Weber, New York Times
"Elevated silliness of the highest order that makes a gratifying case for the restorative return to knowing foolishness and the smartly absurd."
Linda Winer, Newsday
"Irreverent and nimble…Takes every Broadway banality and subverts [it] with refreshing cynicism."
Amy Gamerman, The Wall Street Journal
"Pure gold!… Urinetown is a wild and happy mix of biting satire and loving parody. What is wonderful is the energized spirit that flashes through the show like lightning. You'll get your money's worth in sheer fun."
Clive Barnes, New York Post
"Inspired, fresh, exuberant, even moving. You've got to go!"
"Adventurous and groundbreaking musicals can provoke us, engage us in fresh ways, push the boundaries of the form, make a real emotional connection with the people on stage. Musicals like Urinetown, the sell-out hit that aims for comic heights and keeps the audience soaring"
Richard Zoglin, TIME
Urinetown: The Musical,
Original off-Broadway Cast Recording (2001)-
with John Cullum, Danny Marcus, Hunter Foster and Mark Hollmann
Label: RCA-Victor Broadway CD
Urinetown: The Musical
By Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann,
Publisher:: Faber and Faber, (2003)