Why on earth would a play have the title Urinetown? Besides the obvious play on the words “You’re In Town,” we can see social satires pushing the boundaries of what is accepted to make a point all throughout history.
After a trip to Paris—in which he thought $300 could last a couple of weeks—turned into an exercise in endurance, Greg Kotis was inspired to write of a city where a monopolizing corporation controlled all the amenities in town. Teaming up with Mark Hollman, they came up with a script that went on to be produced at the NYC Fringe. This production turned into one of the most successful shows at the Festival, leading to a successful Broadway run that began in 2001 and ran until 2004—yielding ten Tony Award nominations and three wins. Interestingly, the only reason the show closed was because the Henry Miller Theatre was scheduled for the renovation that turned it into the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
Having wanted to direct Urinetown since I saw it on Broadway, I am amazed at how pertinent Urinetown still is over a decade after it closed. Though many people pinhole the play as simply poking fun at other musicals, it reaches far beyond that. Yes, it pays homage to many notable plays throughout the musical theatre canon (look for jabs at Les Misérables, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, The Cradle Will Rock, Threepenny Opera, as well as the works of Jerry Herman and Kander & Ebb), but it is most successful at using the satirical form to make commentary on many social ills. Just as Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show comment on political and social issues, so does Urinetown. Themes of police violence, corporate influence on politics, and dissipating water due to drought can easily be imagined being spoken by John Stewart.
Hopefully, through the guise of laughter, we can raise social consciousness just a bit.
Michael J. Barnes