By Matthew Willis
VANCOUVER — Urinetown: the Musical is simultaneously one of the seminal musical theatre pieces of the 21st century and also most likely to be skipped because of its title. Delicate-minded individuals will be missing a multi-Tony award winning script and the second production of the show done by the multi-Jessie award (the Tony awards of Vancouver) winning Firehall Arts Centre. For fans of musical theatre, Urinetown is a hilarious parody of contemporary social issues such as corporatism, capitalism and eco-sustainability as it pertains to water, as well as a satire of the musical genre itself. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll experience ironic detachment that forces a mature evaluation of your social values. So don’t be squeamish about the title.
The story takes place in a dystopian world that has experienced a 20-year drought, which has caused the government to eliminate private toilets and force citizens to pay for permission to pee in the “public amenities.” Those who urinate in non-designated areas are arrested and taken to the ominous punishment camp known as “Urinetown.” Throughout the song and dance numbers, every musical theatre convention is satirized, railing on classics like Bertolt Brecht’s Three Penny Opera and Les Miserables. The plot is familiar as well: the strapping, charming young protagonist must somehow fight an evil, authoritative despot in a massive uprising. The original writers, Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, know their musical theatre troupes very well and manage to exploit them for hilarious, meta-comic effect.
Donna Spenser, the director of the production, directed the show at the Firehall in 2006 and is approaching it from a different angle this time around. “[Urinetown: the Musical] is funny and very entertaining. But it’s also about the important issue of water.” Spenser says. “I’m particularly interested in theatre that comments on what society should be thinking or is currently thinking at the time. We haven’t solved the issues around clean water and we haven’t solved the issues around who owns it and who has the right to control it.” To complement the content audiences see, the Firehall is also hoping to have panel discussions featuring climatologists and other field experts to continue promoting the topic of water awareness and environmentalism. Keep an eye out for those announcements.
Half-Brechtian, half musical comedy, Urinetown is not to be missed for any fans of musicals and concerned citizens of environmental sustainability and corporate greed. This production promises to be funnier, smarter and perhaps a bit darker than ever before.
Urinetown: The Musical plays at the Firehall Arts Centre from Nov. 1-29. For more show and ticket information, visit http://firehallartscentre.ca/get-tickets/firehall-productions/.BC, British Columbia, Firehall Arts Centre, Urinetown, Urinetown: the Musical