Urinetown’s Irreverent Humor Refreshes Somber Theater Scene

Phoebe Hammer, Arts Editor

Yes, there really is a musical called Urinetown, and yes, it is about pee. This weekend the Oberlin Musical Theater Association will be performing Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’s Tony Award-winning comedy in Wilder Main. Directed by College senior Aaron Palmer, the production is poised to generate laughs and, at times, disgust.

Urinetown takes place in an undisclosed city besieged by a 20-year drought. In an attempt to regulate water consumption, the city has outlawed the use of private toilets, forcing the citizens to use public payper-use facilities owned by the Urine Good Company, an evil corporation run by Caldwell B. Cladwell, played by Conservatory junior DeRon McDaniel. A brutal police force maintains order, and anyone who disobeys the law is sent to the mysterious Urinetown. After watching his father’s arrest for urinating in the street, the heroic Bobby Strong, played by Conservatory first-year Eric Sargent, decides to fight against the system alongside Hope Cladwell, Cladwell’s optimistic and naïve daughter, played by College sophomore Justine Goode.

In a departure from OMTA’s recent dramatic repertoire, Urinetown is meant for laughs first and thinking later. “I read Urinetown over the summer, and it was irreverently funny, witty, and, for all its flaws, it really is an engaging show,” Palmer said. “Especially after last year’s theater performances, I wanted to show [where] we could be funny but still have something to say.”

Goode agrees, adding that the play is “kind of gross, but it does deal with serious issues — a corporationcontrolling a population — and is able to make light of it. It feels different than any show [OMTA] has done recently.”

But what exactly makes Urinetown so different? First, it is overly dramatic and knows it. It pokes fun at many popular musicals, such as Les Misérables and West SideStory, and even makes fun of its own name in one of the scenes. “If you’re used to rolling your eyes at love at first sight, breaking into song at random moments and starting a revolution overnight, we are with you, and the play is making fun of these things in the same way. Think of it as the ‘anti-musical musical.’” said Goode.

Even the characters are purposefully two-dimensional and over-the-top, adding to the humor. “My favorite part about playing Bobby is getting to be such a character,” Sargent said. “Bobby knows how to romance and lead the people, but when it comes down to critical thinking and foresight, his imperfections are gloriously exposed.”

Behind the humor, the show highlights the interconnectedness of the musical theater community. College sophomore Kathryn Hobart, the show’s technical director,decided to emphasize this theme on the stage. The crew took whole pieces of wood from old OMTA productions for use as large barricades in a scene that mimics the famous Les Misérables barricade scene. “I loved the idea of connecting past decisions with the present reality. Some of the old shows were great and some were bad, but they all ended up as part of Urinetown,” said Palmer. “It’s similar to the way that the show’s past decisions have led to the current problems in their town.” Additionally, the stage is set very low to the ground to bring the audience close to the action in an almost invasive and discomforting way, in an attempt to reflect the way the citizens feel about the malevolent Urine Good Company.

Although the show makes fun of the musical stereotype of breaking into song at any given moment, the music is still brilliant and challenging. Directed by College junior Jonathan Jue-Wong, the vocals set a high bar for the cast. “Bobby’s songs demand a lot from the singer in range and musicality,” Sargent said. “It has been a journey the last couple months to work through [these] pieces and come out with something I am very proud of.”

Urinetown is a dark comedy that is being called one of the best musicals of the decade. “Each joke and gag has been neatly placed, and when it’s executed correctly, it has audiences in hysterics,” Sargent said. “People will leave our show laughing and with a few great tunes in their head, but also hopefully with the thought of the importance of this satire.”

The production will run from April 24–26, with shows at 7:30 p.m. in Wilder Main. Tickets can be purchased for $3 in advance at Wilder front desk and $5 at the door.