Despite its grin-inducing title, “Urinetown” is actually a pretty serious show. The satire-laden comedy, which will premiere at Union City High School next Thursday, April 11, tells the story of a dystopian society set sometime in the near future, where, as the result of a 20 year drought, citizens must pay to urinate, or else be sent to “Urinetown.” The comedy is dark, the music is powerful, and the message is thought-provoking.
“It’s a really smart show, you know, because this is something that could theoretically happen now,” said Tania Garcia, a senior, who plays Little Sally, an energetic but observant orphan.
Eric Parra, a senior who plays Officer Lockstock (yes, his sidekick is Officer Barrel), agreed with Garcia, explaining that despite its comedic appearance, the show is meant to evoke a powerful response from its audience.
“The message is sort of that we really need to take care of our resources,” he said. “There’s so much waste in our society. This could be our lackluster future unless we’re careful.”
The musical, which rails against the absurdities of everything from populism to corporate mismanagement to municipal politics, chronicles a revolution sparked by Bobby Strong (played by senior Dany Nunez), the assistant manager at one of the public toilets in the poorest part of town, against the mega-corporation known as Urine Good Company (UGC), which manages the town’s public bathrooms. UGC, led by its ruthless CEO Caldwell B. Cladwell and his cronies, enforces the town’s pay-to-pee policies, and carts any dissenters off to the mysterious “Urinetown,” a metaphysical place from which no one has ever returned.
“Bobby’s sort of the archetype for the 1950s everyman,” said Nunez. “He sets out on this journey to fight government and bring freedom to his friends, but he learns along the way that government is more of a necessary evil than he thought.”
“There’s so much waste in our society, this could be our lackluster future unless we’re careful.” - Eric Parra
“He’s greedy, self-centered and manipulative,” he said. “But at the end of the day he’s got everyone’s best interests at heart.”
Strong’s revolution is complicated when he falls in love with Cladwell’s daugher, Hope, who becomes mixed up in the politics of it all when the rebels kidnap her without Strong’s knowledge and he is caught between what he believes and what he loves.
“There’s sort of this typical Romeo and Juliet storyline woven within the main plot,” said Angelica Ubiera, the junior playing Hope.
Not your average comedy
Asked why he chose a show as offbeat as “Urinetown,” Director Anthony Gusevich, a Union City native and the high school’s drama teacher, said he wanted to do a comedy, just not a typical one.
“I think it’s really important to be able to teach something,” he said. “I wanted to do a comedy but I wanted it to be a comedy with a message. I saw ‘Urinetown’ when it was first on Broadway, and thought it’d be great.”
Gusevich said that he thought the show’s focus on the consequences of waste were particularly applicable to today’s audience.
“I wanted to appeal to what’s going on around us every day. As a community we can be wasteful with food, water, and resources,” he said. “If your show isn’t teaching and the audience isn’t learning, you’re probably not doing the right show.”
Both Gusevich and the student actors discussed some of the challenges that went along with producing a comedy, especially one laden with serious undertones.
“People think comedy is easier, but that’s really not the case,” said Gusevich. “With this show especially, there’s not really a difference between being dramatic and funny. We’ve got to be dramatic and funny.”
Nunez described his struggle to find his funnier side, and said he felt better once he stopped trying so hard.
“Because of the extreme circumstances of the show, trying to be funny doesn’t really work,” he said. “The show is very serious, so I just tried to be serious, and hopefully the funny comes naturally.”
Ubiera agreed, adding that the more she believed that her performance was funny, the funnier it got, despite her serious delivery.
“When you really believe in what you’re doing, that’s what makes people laugh,” she said.
The show will run at Union City High School’s Performing Arts Center from April 11-13 at 7 p.m., with an additional 1 p.m. matinee on April 13. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for the general public, and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com or at the door.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org