The Bonstelle actors are preparing to debut a show of epic and strange proportions. Tony Award-winning “Urinetown: The Musical” spotlights a neo-futuristic city where, due to a 20-year drought, society is grasping at straws to survive. They’ve turned to a private megacorporation, Urine Good Company (UGC), to privatize public utilities and control water consumption. This, in turn, means that citizens must pay a fee for all bathroom activities; in other words, it’s a “privilege to pee.”
In this unique tale, the impoverished lower class is barely able to pay for regular trips to the restroom. And if they dare to urinate in public, law enforcement officials will drag them away to a mysterious place called Urinetown, which, as officer Lockstock explains, is a “bad place filled with symbolism and things like that.”
After experiencing the corruption of the UGC firsthand, public amenity assistant Bobby Strong begins an uprising against the megacorporation and their exploitative president Caldwell B. Cladwell (played by Hilberry actor Kyle Johnson). Beyond satirizing capitalism, bureaucracy and corporate mismanagement, “Urinetown: The Musical” is a dark comedy that encourages you to follow your dreams, even if they’re headed down the crapper.
Playing the gallant everyman Bobby Strong is Wayne State University senior Luke Rose. Like most men in the restroom, Rose is a stand-up guy who describes his character as desiring freedom for all people. Rose is also quick to mention that “Urinetown” will be appreciated by a wide range of audiences. “It has little bits of everything,” says Rose. “Sometimes it’s really funny or serious, and then suddenly it’s romantic or upsetting. There’s something for everyone.”
The musical also shifts in and out of realism, with perfect comedic timing, often with the help of Officer Lockstock, the nonchalant narrator, and Little Sally, the quasi-narrator street urchin. Little Sally, played by senior Taylor Morrow, is a young girl in the rebellion that keeps the audience informed. “She brings an element of meta-theater,” says Morrow. “She just runs on stage and starts telling people what’s happening.”
The stage design amplifies this beautiful opposition between realism and meta-theater. While the stage is artfully crafted to display the grunge of this depressing and hilarious city, Rose explains that “there’s no masking,” which includes theater drapes and stage curtains, “so the audience can always see the back of the Bonstelle.” In other words, the audience has an inside look at what’s happening backstage. Jolting the audience in and out of reality like this is commonly called the alienation effect, “so the audience always knows that they’re sitting in the show.”
Beyond the quick-witted dialogue and, as Little Sally puts it, “bad subject matter,” audience members – especially regular theater goers – may find that certain songs in “Urinetown” seem familiar. “What’s interesting about this musical,” says Morrow, “is that it makes fun of other musicals.” Parodying songs from shows like “West Side Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Urinetown” plays off classic tropes and tones from the theatrical world. Morrow explains that audiences shouldn’t expect “a simple theme that weaves through the entire show,” as you might see in Stephen Sondheim compositions. “This show doesn’t do that. Every song is very different.”
Playing April 17–26, “Urinetown: The Musical” is sure to cause a splash in Detroit. Tickets are $20–$25, with student rush tickets available for $15 on performance days. You can purchase tickets by calling (313) 577-2960, visiting Bonstelle1.com or visiting the Wayne State University Theatre Box Office located at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock Street.