Urinetown, the Musical, hailed by some as the funniest Broadway musical this side of The Producers, finally opens Sept. 20 at The Henry Miller after a one-week delay caused by the Sept. 11 World Trade Center tragedy.
The musical satire by the heretofore unknown writing team of Greg Kotis (book and lyrics) and Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics) concerns a futuristic, drought-stricken city where water usage and toilets are controlled by an evil corporation, led by Tony Award-winner John Cullum, playing dapper Caldwell B. Cladwell. The citizens rebel — and dance! — and comedy ensues.
In the opening sequence of the show, the company sings: "First act lasts an hour, don't assume you're fine. Best go now, there often is a line!"
Previews began Aug. 27 at the newly refurbished Henry Miller (formerly Henry Miller's Theatre). Opening was originally scheduled for Sept. 13, but producers bumped the official bow to Sept. 20 for reasons related to the national tragedy, and because press had not been able to see the show prior to that opening date.
As the nation reeled from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Broadway shows followed the lead of business and government functions around the country and shuttered Sept. 11-12. All occupied Broadway theatres reopened Sept. 13 as part of the New York City's attempt to return to normalcy, but by Sept. 19 four shows announced they would shutter by Sept. 23 because audiences have stayed away from New York City. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has urged theatregoers in the tri-state area — and beyond — to return to the hotels, theatres and restaurants of Manhattan. He has repeatedly said Broadway is the city's largest tourist attraction.
As part of the effort to bolster the theatre community, the producers of Urinetown have invited cast and crew members from all the other Broadway shows to join the musical's opening-night, post-show reception at Laura Belle, next to the theatre.
New seats, box office and air-conditioning equipment have been fitted into Henry Miller's Theatre, the fabled 1918 house on 43rd Street, now being labeled as The Henry Miller. The satiric musical is set in a futuristic urban world where residents must "pay to pee" due to a drought that has plagued the land. When townspeople revolt against the evil corporation that controls the water, what burbles up in the tuner is a neo-Brechtian spoof of musical comedy conventions. Fans have debated whether the show is a frivolous musical comedy that pokes fun at the form or if there is a serious political message to be found.
The show started life at the New York International Fringe Festival in 1999 and grew to an Off-Broadway tryout earlier this year, starring John Cullum as the corrupt mogul, Caldwell B. Cladwell. Critics embraced the show. Songs in the show include "It's a Privilege to Pee," "Mr. Cladwell," "Cop Song," "Look at the Sky," "Follow Your Heart," "Snuff That Girl," "Run, Freedom, Run!," "What Did I Listen to That Man?," "We're Not Sorry," "I See a River" and more.
Producers are The Araca Group and Dodger Theatricals, in association with TheaterDreams Inc., and Lauren Mitchell. They lifted their hit tryout company to Broadway.
John Rando (A Thousand Clowns, The Dinner Party) directs. Musical staging is by John Carrafa.
Despite the off-putting title, which conjures a foul world, the musical comedy got enthusiastic reviews and audiences howled at the sly references to past musicals in the songs and in Carrafa's comic choreography. The tuner conjures the tone and physical qualities of such legendary shows as Guys and Dolls, The Threepenny Opera, Sweeney Todd, West Side Story and the great satiric musicals of the Gershwins (Strike Up the Band, Of Thee I Sing). Brecht is brought to mind with the company's direct-address to the audience and the comic conclusion that thwarts the expectations of the audience.
The company includes Cullum, Hunter Foster as Bobby Strong, Spencer Kayden as Little Sally, Jeff McCarthy as Officer Lockstock, Nancy Opel as Penelope Pennywise and Jennifer Laura Thompson as Hope Cladwell. The production also features David Beach, Jennifer Cody, Rachel Coloff, Rick Crom, John Deyle, Victor W. Hawks, Erin Hill, Ken Jennings, Megan Lawrence, Daniel Marcus, Peter Reardon, Don Richard, Lawrence Street and Kay Walbye.
Designers are Scott Pask (scenic), Jonathan Bixby and Gregory Gale (costumes), Brian MacDevitt (lighting), Jeff Curtis (sound). Musical direction is by Edward Strauss. Orchestrations are by Bruce Coughlin.
A cast album was released by RCA Victor in August.
Urinetown was the winner of two 2001 Obie Awards — a special citation for book (Greg Kotis) and lyrics (Greg Kotis, Mark Hollmann) and an award for musical staging (John Carrafa). Spencer Kayden, who plays the role of Little Sally, also received the Clarence Derwent Award for her performance. Urinetown was also nominated for nine Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical.
Henry Miller's Theatre opened in 1918 and was the home for Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town, T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party, Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution and The Andersonville Trial with George C. Scott. In the 1960s, the theatre began showing adult films, and housed a number of nightclubs, including Xenon. The theatre returned to legit use as the original home of the Roundabout Theatre Company's Tony Award-winning revival of Cabaret.
The Henry Miller is at 124 W. 43rd Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway). For tickets, call (212) 239-6200.
The producers had originally announced early August for the first preview, but that date was bumped in order to allow for the renovations of the Henry Miller's Theatre. Preparing the house for its new tenant, producers are installing new seats, a new air conditioning system and expanding the box office.
Urinetown previously played at the little-known American Theatre of Actors, a 120-seat space at 314 W. 54th Street. Urinetown is the first new Broadway musical of the 2001-02 season. A spokesman for the show said there was no truth to the rumor that the producers had considered changing the title to U-Town to make it more palatable to potential ticketbuyers.
The unique Urinetown began life at the Present Company Theatorium on the Lower East Side as part of the 1999 New York International Fringe Festival. The show opened at the ATA on May 3 of this year after a month of previews. The show retains all of its leading players for the Broadway mounting.
To view Playbill On-Line's Brief Encounter interview with John Cullum, click here.