On Monday, we start rehearsals for Urinetown, and so I continue my blog, assuming somebody somewhere is actually reading these ramblings o' mine...
I first saw Urinetown in New York, shortly after it moved to Broadway, and just a month or so after the 9/11 attacks that forced most Broadway and off Broadway shows to close prematurely (including my beloved Bat Boy). It truly was like nothing I had ever seen -- as Brechtian (i.e., in the style of legendary political playwright and director Bertolt Brecht) as Threepenny Opera and Sweeney Todd, as angry as Assassins and The Cradle Will Rock, as hilarious as Bat Boy (though not as big-hearted), as bizarre as Anyone Can Whistle. I knew, leaving the theatre that night, that I just had to work on this show!
And now my time has come. God help us all.
Urinetown is intensely, aggressively, relentlessly Silly, and yet its surface style is also its central joke -- seemingly taking its premise and characters so deadly Serious (something that some subsequent productions haven't understood). The trick is for the actors to never "wink" at the audience, to never acknowledge that the whole thing is just a big, sophomoric joke. And then, just when you least expect it, the show ends with a pretty sobering message about human nature and the environment. You leave the theatre hoarse from laughing and also strangely disturbed...
Urinetown is one of a crop of new, post-modern musicals, self-referential, deeply ironic, trading in the Ironic Detachment that now pervades our culture, both silly and smart, trivial and profound at the same time, in a category with The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Bat Boy, and Avenue Q, among others. (For more about the show, read co-author Greg Kotis' article "Urinetown Confidential," from the Feb. 2003 issue of American Theatre magazine, and/or visit New Line's Urinetown webpage.)
It always delights me when people talk about a musical as "a New Line show," when I'm reminded that we have such a clear and strong identity, that our work has become its own category. Urinetown is certainly a New Line show, right alongside Bat Boy, A New Brain, The Robber Bridegroom, Chicago, Floyd Collins, Grease, Reefer Madness, The Cradle Will Rock, The Nervous Set, and lots of others.
This will be our last show at the ArtLoft Theatre, the funky blackbox space downtown that we've been working in since spring of 2001 (we're moving to the new Ivory Theatre in the fall), and it's the perfect way to go out in a Big Blaze of Crazy. Other companies do more polished, more expensive musical theatre than we do, but nobody does Crazy better than us. Or Aggressive. They don't call us the Bad Boy of Musical Theatre for nothin'. Over our sixteen years of existence, we've developed an intense, fearless, totally rowdy style of musical theatre that (as far as I know) belongs to us alone.
It almost seems as if Urinetown was written just for New Line. This is going to be one hell of a ride, and we've got one hell of a cast.
I can't wait to get started.
I'll keep you posted...
Long Live the Musical!