Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Urinetown: The Musical-Unique Delights and Sobering Truths

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Urinetown: The Musical-Unique Delights and Sobering Truths

Article excerpt

I currently am completing the choreography for Urinetown: The Musical, the irreverent 2002 Tony Award-winning show whose off-putting title belies its musical and textual complexity and camouflaged but thoughtful subject matter.

THIS CHEEKY THEATRICAL FARE, inspired by works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill and referencing musicals such as Les Miserables and West Side Story, capitalizes on stock characters and delights in poking fun at everything, including its own conventions.


However, beyond the gags and giggles, this humorous satire addresses serious social and environmental issues. Playwright Greg Kotis got the idea for Urinetown when he ran out of money in France and had to choose between buying food and paying for the use of a public toilet to relieve himself. Capitalizing on the notion of having to "pay to pee," and seeing "water as a metaphor for power," he developed his "mythical/metaphysical" Urinetown, where the affluent are pitted against the downtrodden.

The dramatic conflict stems from "a water shortage so awful that private toilets have become unthinkable," and public amenities have been taken over by greedy corporate types who use political graft and police brutality to fill their coffers and control the masses. Love interests and family loyalties are amusingly played out against a background of social revolt and personal sacrifice. But with all the delightful talking and singing about peeing, sobering truths make this musical comedy much more than bathroom banter.

As preposterous as the Urinetown "pay-to-pee public amenity" may seem, the global scarcity of water mitigates the exaggeration and gives heft to the show's theme. Environmentalist Jeffrey Sachs notes in "Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet" that most of the world's animosities involve access to natural resources. Despite the hoopla about Kingpin Oil, he contends that water, more essential for life and consequently in far greater demand by the world's population, is at the center of most disputes and violence. As hard as it is to imagine, 1.2 billion people on this planet do not have safe drinking water and 2.6 billion have no access to basic sanitation--not even for a fee!

Though the United States has, for the most part, reliable drinking water and dependable sewage systems, drought and increasing populations in the American West and Southeast have drawn political and legal attention to this precious commodity. With six states taking water from the Colorado River for 30 million people, persistent jockeying takes place for reservoir management and water allotments. …

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