'Urinetown' deals with power, privilege and toilets


Jimmy Hogan and Janie Johnson as Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell stand on boxes among cast members during the Act One finale in IU Theatre's production of "Urinetown." The musical will run in the Wells-Metz Theatre on Sept. 22, 23 and 26-29 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 30 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Marlie Bruns

“It’s a privilege to pee,” reads the tagline for “Urinetown.”

The musical theater production “Urinetown” opens the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance 2017-18 season at the Wells-Metz Theatre.

Set in a near-future dystopia where a water shortage burdens civilization, “Urinetown,” is the story of a corporation gaining the ability to charge people for the right to use the restroom and the mayhem that arises.

“It has very dark humor,” professor and director Kenneth Roberson said. “This show takes place in mostly a poor part of town. They’re struggling with this change and they decide they have to revolt because of a fee hike to urinate.”

As the revolution arises, the townspeople post large banners in their meeting area that say, “Secret Hideout” in an attempt to keep their plans covert. "Urinetown" also has a love story that reaches across the boundaries of class.

“It's the traditional love story,” Roberson said. “Romeo and Juliet, the Hatfields and McCoys, West Side story. That kind of forbidden love of people from different classes.”

The show’s numbers cover a range of styles. Alongside traditional Broadway musical pieces, there are jazz, Russian folk and southern revival numbers.

“We really sing in every single style,” IU senior and actress playing HopeJanie Johnson said. “One characteristic of postmodern theater work is that it parodies other things from years previous, so in this production, we do so many different styles of songs.”

Songs like “Too Much Exposition” break the fourth wall to explain the premise. When discussing the concept of "Urinetown," the singer says, “Let’s just say it’s filled with symbolism and things like that.”

Another character tries to detail other plot points, saying, “Whoa, there, Little Sally. They’ll hear more about the water shortage in the next scene.”

Later in the song, he says, “Nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.”

Despite the irony, the themes of privilege, class and revolution in “Urinetown” bring in more serious elements alongside the comedic ones.

“I would call it a comedy and tragedy all in one,” Johnson said. “My main goal is to to tell the story as best we can and leave the audience thinking.”

The cast and crew worked since the beginning of the semester to bring the show together. Roberson said it’s good that students have this experience to learn how professional theater works.

“We really want our students to get the closest to professional experience that they can,” Roberson said. “These people will eventually go into film and TV, Broadway shows, writers, producers.”

Between parodies and postmodernism, Johnson said the show is super entertaining. She said she knows she's an actor playing a character and she's telling this story.

“Anyone who has never seen a musical or doesn’t usually consider themselves a theater-goer would love this,” Johnson said. “This is the show someone needs to see if they’re on the edge.”

“Urinetown” premieres Sept. 22 and runs through Sept. 30. Tickets start at $10 for students.

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