Cullum Won't Leave Urinetown in Midstream; Bway Previews Now Begin in August

News   Cullum Won't Leave Urinetown in Midstream; Bway Previews Now Begin in August John Cullum will forego playing King Lear in San Francisco this fall in order to move to Broadway with the current Off-Broadway company of Urinetown, the musical spoof of musical theatre, a spokesman said.
John Cullum in Urinetown.
John Cullum in Urinetown. (Photo by Photo by Joan Marcus)

John Cullum will forego playing King Lear in San Francisco this fall in order to move to Broadway with the current Off-Broadway company of Urinetown, the musical spoof of musical theatre, a spokesman said.

The neo-Brechtian musical comedy is now aiming toward a first preview in August — rather than the previously announced July — at Broadway's Henry Miller's Theatre, on 43rd Street. In order to allow for proper teching of the show in the new space and owing to some issues inside the long dormant Henry Miller's (there are no seats there at the moment) producers decided to not begin previews in July. Opening is likely for late August or September, a spokesman said.

The little show that started at the 1999 New York International Fringe Festival and grew to its current Off-Broadway test run at American Theatre for Actors (through June 25), will be the first new Broadway musical of the 2001-2002 season. A cast album has been recorded by RCA; the release date is July 10.

Cullum, the Tony Award-winning actor once of Shenandoah and On the Twentieth Century, was set to play Lear Sept. 15-Oct. 7 for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, but chose to continue as the corporate villain Caldwell B. Cladwell in the well-received new tuner by Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics). The limited Off-Broadway mounting, at the 120-seat American Theatre of Actors, 314 W. 54th Street, continues to June 25 (a slight change from previously reported June 30) and is virtually sold out, save for scattered seats at matinees, a spokesman said. Call (212) 239-6200 for ticket information.

Cullum, widely known for his role on TV's "Northern Exposure," also starred in the original production of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever in 1966, earning another Tony nomination, and in Camelot. Most recently, he was seen in Wendy Wasserstein's Old Money at Lincoln Center Theater. Set in a drought-ridden gotham-esque city where the privilege to relieve oneself is regulated by a single corporation, Urinetown uses the basic melodramatic themes of greed, corruption and betrayal to portray a time where water is worth its weight in gold. A standard book musical in one sense, Urinetown is also a "musical" in the ironic and presentational sense, with characters constantly commenting on the theatre and the musical form, and Kotis and Hollmann openly mock theatrical convention (including concepts such as exposition and the notion of a happy ending).

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The 1918 Henry Miller's Theatre, for many years not used as a theatre, came back to legitimate life in 1998 when it was rechristened the Kit Kat Klub and made the base of the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Cabaret (which has since moved on to Studio 54). With the advent of Cabaret, the Miller was re recognized by the Tony Awards Administration Committee as a Broadway house. A spokesperson at the League of American Theatres and Producers confirmed on May 16 that the Miller remains a Tony-eligible house. Thus, Urinetown may end up the unlikely recipient of nominations or even awards at the end of the 2001-02 Broadway season.

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Since beginning previews April 1, the 16-actor Urinetown collected nine Drama Desk Award nominations. The amusingly titled satirical show — the hit of 1999's New York International Fringe Festival — was cited by the Drama Desk organization for best musical, best music, best lyrics and best book. Also nominated were director John Rando, choreographer John Carrafa, orchestrator Bruce Coughlin, and actors Spencer Kayden and Jeff McCarthy.

The entire cast will move to Broadway, although Megan Lawrence will take a pregnancy leave. Also in the cast are Nancy Opel, well known from various David Ives plays, as Ms. Pennywise; Ken Jennings, the original Toby in Sweeney Todd; and Jennifer Laura Thompson, the female lead in Footloose, as Caldwell's naive daughter. Urinetown is produced by Araca Group and Dodger Theatricals.

Among the spunky, tongue-in-cheek songs are the title tune ("This is Urinetown!/Your ticket should say Urinetown!/No refunds, this is Urinetown!"), "Snuff that Girl," "A Privilege to Pee," "The Cop Song," "What Is Urinetown?," "Run, Freedom, Run" and "Don't Be the Bunny" (a Cullum number).