The Anthem of the People

I'd like to give a big musical theatre Shout Out to my Urinators! You Rock!

This is the hardest working cast in show business, I shit you not. We had our music review tonight, going back over the whole score, fixing any problems, smoothing over rough spots, just making sure everything's clicking before we go forward and put this thing on its feet. And by God, these amazing performers really know what they're doing! When the big dramatic group sections come up, these sixteen voices sound like a choir of forty! They have been working their asses off these first two weeks and it has paid off. 'Cause this is the hardest damn score I've worked on since Sweeney Todd.

And did I mention it's hard?

Numbers like the Act I finale and "Why Did I Listen to That Man?" are essentially gigantic operatic counterpoint numbers -- in the language of Broadway pop and German agitprop (like Threepenny), but fully operatic in form, with rich, thick harmonies, beautifully wrought counterpoint, and big, thrilling climaxes. It's a complete blast to play (though the piano part is hard too!), and it's even more of a blast to sing. I'm gonna miss playing this stuff once I hand it off to our pianist and conductor Chris Petersen.

And my favorite part -- so much of this music is really funny! There are musical jokes and references everywhere. It's a rare theatre score whose music is actually funny (Bat Boy is another example of very few), even independent of its lyrics... which are also incredibly funny.

What's so much fun about the score is that it mocks itself constantly. The music mocks itself in the self-important movie melodrama of the Ooo's behind Sally's melody in "Tell Her I Love Her," the notated huffing and puffing between the final phrases of "Why Did I Listen to That Man?", the coitus interruptus of several songs' endings -- but it's also extremely high quality, sophisticated music, even by "serious" standards.

And the lyrics aren't just funny, they literally mock lyrics and even mock rhyming! So often, the lyrics careen into extended multiple rhymes, but with each successive rhyme, the actual meaning of the words gets more and more bizarre, consciously abandoning sense for rhyme -- playfully making a mockery of the acrobatic rhyming in the theatre lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, Yip Harburg, Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and others. And yet, at the same time, the lyrics are so skillfully built, so easy to sing, melded to the music so seemingly effortlessly. Hollman and Kotis aren't just smartass comedians; they are also supremely talented theatre writers.

I am the luckiest fucker on the planet. I get to do shows like Urinetown and I never have to worry about them being "commercial." Our theatre only seats 150 (at the most), and all our shows are budgeted to lose money (offset by grants and contributions), so we never have to worry about what mainstream audiences will like or hate, be offended by, or just not understand. We get to make relatively pure theatre. I get to live my life inside great works of art like Sunday in the Park with George, Floyd Collins, Bat Boy, Passion, and now, Urinetown. Don't let its smartass posture fool you -- this is a true work of art, a piece so honest and so well crafted that working on it is both incredibly joyful and also deeply humbling.

God, I love my job.

Now if I could just pay my rent...

Long Live the Musicals!