Urinetown: A Great Show with an Awful Title

Cole Reihing

You have to pay to pee. 

That’s it. That’s the show.

But it is still a winner of multiple Tony awards and an overall Broadway sensation.

Thinking about the great Broadway hits over the last few decades, there are a few that instantly come to mind. Hamilton, for one, for using modern musical stylings to tell a poetic and beautiful epic story, and for bringing Broadway back into mainstream. Les Mis and Greatest Showman are noteworthy because they had Wolverine in them. CATS is the black sheep musical in the already-black-sheep genre of Musical Theatre. And, depending on what decade you’re from, you may know Rent, Wicked, or Hadestown if you happened to sit next to the theatre-kids table at lunch.

So, in that roster, where does Urinetown come in?

This 2001 musical written by two guys who nobody knows is very clear about its two central concepts; a) the citizens have to pay to pee, and b) this is a musical. These are not only clear; they’re textual. Officer Lockstock, both the narrator and one of the main antagonists, frequently stops the show in order to tell the audience just as much, that this a musical about people who have to pay to pee, lest they be taken away to the mythical Urinetown. Those who don’t pay up, or pee in the bushes, are taken by Lockstock to Urinetown, a vaguely horrible place that the audience doesn’t get a full grasp of until later on in the show. Until then, there’s a strong hero, an enamored ingenue (the standard theatre jargon for the innocent young woman), an evil capitalist, and a rebellion involving all three. 

But still, in the list of the greatest Broadway hits, where is Urinetown?

To put it plainly, Urinetown stands alone in the theatre lexicon. This strange and hilarious meta-show makes just as much fun of musical theatre itself as it does of its ridiculous circumstances. Actors in Urinetown know that it’s a show, and they use the fact that it’s a performance to interact with the audience, joke around, enjoy themselves, and occasionally mess with the audience in surprising ways.

The performance this weekend is no different. Our student actors play like crazy, and bring a new contemporary energy to the stage. It’s a postmodern jukebox of light, sound, dance, and theme, an all around electric performance. 

Urinetown also manages to comment on greater issues than those mentioned before. Capitalism, idealism, and classism are all commented upon, and Urinetown doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to its political statements. In today’s world, this type of message is somewhat unique; it is rare for a bold critique of capitalism such as Urinetown to not only reach such mainstream appeal, but to also give such a critique in both an intelligent and electric showcase.

In my years of performance, I have never done a show like Urinetown, and I doubt I’ll do one again anytime soon. Finding a funny, contemporary, modern, and poignant musical with such an absurd subject matter is rare to come across, and will leave audiences rolling throughout the show, and thinking for long after.

You have to pay to pee. But there’s so much more.

The show opens at Price Theatre on Wednesday, February 19th at 7 P.M. It runs Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:00 P.M., with a 2:30 matinee on Sunday, February 22. Box office reservations can be made at priceboxoffice@lagrange.edu, or by calling 706-880-8080.

Cole Reihing is a junior Theatre Arts Performance Major from St. Marys, GA. He has been involved in several LaGrange College productions, including August: Osage County, Bedroom Farce, These Shining Lives, Noises Off, and more. He can be seen this week as Hot Blades Harry in Urinetown. Outside of the theatre, he is a member of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity and runs a book club.

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