NYC's Araca Group to Workshop Fringe Hit Urinetown!; Readings Jan. 25 & 27

By David Lefkowitz
January 25, 2000

Leave it to a musical called Urinetown! to be flush with success.

Leave it to a musical called Urinetown! to be flush with success.

Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann's satirical show, which had an extended run as part of 1999's New York International Fringe Festival, is now getting developmental readings towards a more commercial run. The Araca Group (Matthew Rego, Michael Rego and Hank Unger), whose production credits include Chicago's Love, Janis and the current Off-Broadway Vagina Monologues, is sponsoring the readings, to be held Jan. 25 & 27 at New Dramatists in Manhattan.

Set in a 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.

The production was initially put together by Theatre of the Apes -- that is, improv all-stars Kotis (of Chicago's Neo-Futurist troupe) and Hollmann (of Second City and Chicago City Limits). Kotis penned the book, Hollman the music, and both collaborated on the lyrics.

As reported by the Production Notes theatrical newsletter, John Rando, who has staged a number of David Ives plays for Primary Stages, will direct the readings. Starring are James Barbour, Nancy Opel (Triumph Of Love), Michael McCormack, Jen Thompson, Marcus Lovett (Carousel), Daniel Marcus, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Murney, Tom Gualtieri, Jessica Frankel, Dale Hensley, Duane Martin Foster, Spencer Kayden (a longtime Neo-Futurist), Nanci Bradshaw, Raquel Hecker, Debra Wiseman and Michael St. John.

A standing-room-only smash at the 1999 Fringe Fest, Urinetown! won the event's "FringeXcellence Award" in the category Overall Excellence - Musical. Hollman told Playbill On-Line at the time, "Greg and I just weren't expecting this response to the show. Especially since agents were telling us that with a title like Urinetown!, no one was going to go near it."

The Araca Group's other current projects include a new play by former NBC sitcom star Mike O'Malley, Searching For Certainty, and film projects with director Aaron Harnick (Sheldon's nephew). Co-producer Matthew Rego told Playbill On-Line (Jan. 19), "We're doing [Urinetown!] to learn more about the show and see what to do next. We saw it at the fringe and think it's one of the funniest and most imaginative and original musicals we've seen in a long time. It has a fringe title, but I think it's a very mainstream musical. It has a great story and a great message, with some poignant and touching stuff, too. Broadway's the goal, and who knows what lies in between?"

As for the show itself, co-author Kotis told Playbill On-Line, "We're tweaking it... Most of the rewrites have meant adjusting it for the reading, trimming it wherever we can... It's exciting to see the cast they've put together."

Asked if he saw the show's title as a potential stumbling block in the way of a commercial production, Kotis said, "We've been continually pressured to change the title, even during the Fringe period, but it's just something we don't want to do. The show and the title -- one can't escape the other. A lot of people wouldn't give the show a chance based on the title, but there's a huge market that would want to see this just because it's odd. It's not profane; urine isn't a bad word. Urinetown! exists in the tradition of off-beat, quirky, heightened shows, like Rocky Horror and Little Shop of Horrors. The concept, when Mark and I were building this show, was thinking of the worst concept for a show we could imagine and giving it a full expression. Sort of like what would the whole "Springtime For Hitler" have been like from "The Producers?"