“Urinetown” Takes a Comedic Look at Dark Societal Issues


Courtesy of John Seyfried

Urinetown’s ensemble cast rehearsing for its opening night, which took place Thursday.

Described in the director’s note as “an eerily relevant takedown of Capitalism’s worst case scenario,” the Oberlin Theater Department’s production of Urinetown, a darkly satirical 2001 musical, is still uncomfortably applicable to our political and social climate today. The production deals with a variety of heavy themes, including the dangers of capitalism run amok, as well as racially-charged violence, climate change, and more. 

Yet the show itself is anything but dreary — filled with colorful musical numbers and bawdy jokes, Urinetown feels, for the most part, like a fun, light-hearted show, and it’s morbidly pleasant to watch. It’s only when you start to reflect on the subject matter behind the fun songs and recurring toilet humor that you realize Urinetown, while funny, is undoubtedly dark — at times terrifying and particularly topical.

“This play is actually a critique of the way we’re not together … right now, because of so much that is going on in our culture, we need to think critically, but we also need to find ways to reach one another through laughter and compassion, and I’m hoping that the play will do that,” said Professor of Theater Matthew Wright, who directed the show. 

While by no means a feel-good show, Urinetown allows onlookers to laugh and as a result come together to change the oftentimes broken system. 

“The thing I like most about the show is that no one is wrong, but no one is right,” said College second-year Isaac Slomski-Pritz, who plays Billy Boy Bill.

Urinetown doesn’t shy away from contentious issues. The central idea behind the musical’s world is that a shortage of water has led to severe rationing, including a ban on private toilets and a system where everyone has to pay to use a restroom. This not-so-thinly-veiled reference to climate change drives much of the show, and the characters’ attempts to solve this problem allude to the drastic consequences of different political or bureaucratic approaches to real-life political issues. Urinetown makes a clear statement — crises of this caliber demand a nuanced and considered approach.

“If you do actions just because they feel good, it doesn’t always lead to the right outcome, and if we at Oberlin start to see that, maybe we’ll take something from this musical,” said College third-year Gina Fontanesi, who plays Dr. Billeaux. 

Its thought-provoking political nature aside, Urinetown is a treat to watch. Every aspect of the production works excellently, with stellar performances from actors, fantastic music and choreography, and breathtaking set-design. Despite the heavy subject matter, the show’s jokes rarely fail to land, allowing you to see the light side of the grim issues. You’ll be laughing out loud from your seat, and thinking about the all-too-real subject matter long after the curtain call.