I'm the Man with the Plan

"The view which [the Author] has given of human life has a melancholy hue, but he feels conscious that he has drawn these dark tints from a conviction that they are really in the picture, and not from a jaundiced eye or an inherent spleen of disposition. The theory of mind which he has sketched in the two last chapters accounts to his own understanding in a satisfactory manner for the existence of most of the evils of life, but whether it will have the same effect upon others must be left to the judgment of his readers."
-- Thomas Malthus, preface to "An Essay on the Principle of Population"

Urinetown is really about one central theme -- Control.

As the show begins, Cladwell is in control. And he preserves and exercises that control in a way very familiar to those of us living in the Bush era -- secrets, lies, and fear. Urinetown is a cautionary tale about investing too much power (i.e., control) in the hands of the few. Just as our Congress has allowed George W. Bush too much unchecked power, so too does the Legislature in Urinetown give Cladwell free reign. The bribes Cladwell offers to Senator Fipp now seem like a direct, conscious commentary on the recent Jack Abramoff bribery scandal and the conviction of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for accepting bribes. And the idea in Urinetown that the government keeps detailed records on when these poor folks pee, and whether or not they've "been regular" (i.e., not sneaking illegal pees), smacks of our real government's nosing into our library records, listening to our phone calls, registering us when we buy cold medicine, installing cameras in intersections, and so much more. Urinetown shows us a Worst Case Scenario, but in many ways, that scenario is already real.

The coolest part is that Urinetown was written before any of that real world stuff happened. The scariest part is that in Urinetown the bad guys are ultimately right -- they were doing it all for our own good...!

So where does that leave us? And where does that leave the wags who think musicals are all frothy, light-hearted escapist fare?

I guess I learned back in 1999 when we produced Camelot during the Monica Lewinsky mess -- politics never really changes that much, so most political stories on stage will always be timeless and universal. The only difference is that, in the world of the theatre, politicians always get what's coming to them...

Long Live the Musical!