contributed by Katie Holloway and Blake Rivers
Upon hearing the title, Urinetown, the first questions that quite often come to mind are, ” Who’s in town? What on Earth is this show about? There can’t possibly be a musical about pee, can there?” The answer is, well….yeah.
Urinetown is a place dreamed up by Greg Kotis, a New York playwright must know for his absurdist plays. He certainly never expected to write a musical, but Kotis got the idea on a trip to Paris in 1995 where he was shocked to learn he had to pay for access to some of the city’s urinals, something he hadn’t planned for in his budget. Kotis ended up having to count the trips to the pay toilet that were ubiquitous in the city, as he was a student at the time, and couldn’t afford to pay for several trips a day. Once back in New York, he joined with Mark Hollman to write the music and lyrics to bring this funny gem of an idea to life.
The story takes place in a grim dystopian city run by Caldwell B. Cladwell (Michael Bagwell). Cladwell monopolizes the city’s restrooms for the unsavory purpose of profiteering. Cladwell’s business, Urine Good Company, is protected by a ruthless police force who deports any violators of the tax to the oft-talked about, much feared, Urinetown. When the story’s hero, Bobby Strong (Matt Liptak) by chance crosses paths with Cladwell’s daughter, Hope (Melissa Berkowitz), she unwittingly inspires him to lead a pee-for-free rebellion, and then proverbial toilet over-flows!
Self-aware narration is one distinct attribute in Urinetown, with the narrator often chiming in to guide the story and let us know he’s in on the joke. The matchless production puts a strong emphasis on the entire ensemble of the production, rather than focusing on only the main characters. Dominion’s staging showcases a 20 person cast, ranging from Dominion Board members, actors who are making a repeat appearance with the group, and quite a few new faces.
This marks Patrick M. Doneghy’s third time directing and choreographing for Dominion. Previously he directed the heavenly fun musical, Altar Boyz, and a period comedy called Glorious! Doneghy already has wanted to direct Urinetown ever since playing Officer Lockstock in the Damascus Theatre Company’s production in 2008. “Urinetown is one of my favorite shows,” he said when asked why he wanted to direct the show. “It’s smart, funny, and irreverent. The writing is clever and the music is fantastic!”
At the helm as Music Director is Kevin Diana, another new face to the group. Despite being new to Dominion, Diana’s resume boasts a wide range of experience, including music directing shows like Don Carlo, Un Ballo in Maschera and Godspell, opera performance to choral conducting. He was the assistant music director for the Washington Master Chorale for the 2010-2012 season.
By confronting pressing modern issues like the role of capitalism in society and the hopes and dangers of populism, Urinetown is a perfect fit for the DC area and a definite must-see this winter. Urinetown is anything but traditional, and reflects the eccentric styles of Dominion productions. The clever vernacular in the musical not only provides the audience with entertainment, but teaches lessons applicable to the real world.
Urinetown, The Musical at Dominion Stage runs for three more performances only, this Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 8pm, at the Gunston Arts Center, Theater One, 2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206
Music by Mark Hollman
Lyrics by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis
Book by Greg Kotis
Produced by Shawn g. Byers and Richard Isaacs
Directed by Patrick M. Doneghy
Music Direction by Kevin Diana
Choreographed by Richelle Howie and Patrick M. Doneghy
Stage Managed by Christine Farrell
Urinetown, The Musical, satirizes the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, and municipal politics. The show also parodies musicals such as The Cradle Will Rock and Les Misérables, and the Broadway musical itself as a form. In reverse pantomime style, the unconventional plotline shatters audience expectations of a somewhat pleasant ending. The character of Bobby Strong was included on New York Theatre Monthly’s list of “The 100 Greatest Roles in Musical Theatre”.
Gunston Theater One
2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206