Keith Johnson and Zack Lara, Staff Writers
// Acalanes musicals in the past few years included many classic and well-known titles, namely “Cinderella,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” and “Bye Bye Birdie.” This year, Acalanes decided to shake it up with a more obscure production comically titled “Urinetown.”
The 2020 Acalanes production of “Urinetown” ran from March 5 to March 7 and displayed a satire of legal corruption and capitalism set in a world where people must pay to pee, or risk being sent to the ominous city of Urinetown forever.
From the moment that the musical begins, the audience learns that the show does not take itself too seriously. From making fun of how musicals should end to even spoiling a critical plot point in a one-off joke, many of the scenes ensure that the crowd has a good laugh at the show’s bizarre plot.
The musical centers around the optimistic daydreamer, Bobby Strong (Joel Braunstein) as he stages a revolution against the comically-named Urine Good Company (UGC) to ensure that the people of his town can “pee for free.”
The revolution screams satire, from the red and gold plunger flag, which mocks the flag of the Soviet Union, to the communist marching demonstrations by the poor people of Urinetown.
Along the way, Strong meets Hope Cladwell (Kara Mickas) who, unbeknownst to him, is the daughter of UGC’s greedy owner Caldwell B. Cladwell (Elijah Pockell-Wilson). This Romeo and Juliet-esque love story compliments the narrative throughout the first act of the show. Songs such as “Follow Your Heart” and “Look at the Sky” accompany romantic moments in the story.
Bobby faces a dilemma, in that he is an employee for UGC but disagrees with their methods of controlling society. When he meets Hope, she instructs Bobby to follow his heart, which ultimately inspires him to begin a revolution.
One of the biggest mysteries throughout the beginning of the show is Urinetown itself, as the majority of the characters don’t truly comprehend the meaning of the “town.” Unlike a classic mystery, one of the characters accidentally reveals the twist as a joke.
“[Urinetown] ’s power depends on mystery. I can’t just blurt it out, like ‘There is no Urinetown, we just kill people,’” Quinn Elle’s character Officer Lockstock explains. “That information must be oozed out slowly… somewhere in Act Two. With everybody singing and things like that”
Until the purposefully anticlimactic disclosure, the mysterious place is only known by a gate on the left of the stage. While the “mystery” of Urinetown is officially revealed later in the show, the effect is dampened due to its premature unveiling. At first, it appears to spoil the plot, but the spoiler ultimately becomes a way for the show to satire musicals themselves.
The first act of the show concludes with Bobby and his cohorts kidnapping Hope Cladwell as a hostage. They present Cladwell B. Cladwell with an ultimatum: citizens pee for free, or Hope dies. The show progresses even further down the rabbit hole when it returns from intermission.
The group hides in a secret hideout, ironically labeled “secret hideout” on the wall. They await Bobby’s return from the UGC office. While he is away, the size of the revolution increases exponentially.
Bobby’s revolution progresses out of hand, and UGC offers Bobby money to silence the other rebels and join Cladwell’s side — but Bobby refuses. He ends up thrown off a building a mere fifteen minutes into the second act, suddenly robbing the show from its main character and leaving the audience dumbfounded.
This is another one of the strange, yet hilarious moments that the show offers. It further features a song shortly after about Bobby’s last words: a jumbled mess of instructions and confessions.
Despite Bobby’s death, the show goes on, and the rebels eventually take over UGC, toppling the elite and granting free water to everyone. Alas, the socialist revolution succeeds, and the characters live happily ever after, or so the audience thinks…
Right when the audience believes they have reached a happy ending, the show pulls another twist.
Officer Lockstock explains the new dilemma: “It wasn’t long until the water turned silty, brackish, and then disappeared altogether.”
The show concludes with the desperate yet hopeful Hope attempting to save the dying members of the town, as the stage is littered with dead bodies one by one. Hope sings of a metaphorical river inside of each of them. The show ends on a disturbingly depressing note and ultimately asserts that socialism is too good to be true.
One of the most significant differences from past productions comes in the form of the orchestra. In previous years, plays featured orchestra members below the stage in the first few rows of seats. This time around, however, the seats were made available to audience members, permitting a larger audience.
For this show, the set designers managed to include all of the musicians onto the stage, creatively placed underneath a staircase frequently used by characters in the show.
The tone of the music itself also contributed in a substantial way to the production. The funky, bouncy music produced a dramatic, comedic effect that perfectly accommodated the nature of “Urinetown.” It reminded the audience to interpret nothing too seriously, even throughout the most dramatic scenes.
“I thought the normal feel of musicals is uplifting with really happy music. I felt like the music aspect was cool, but the lyrics weren’t exactly happy. I thought it was different, in the aspect that it was not as uplifting, but really entertaining,” sophomore Riley Daggs said.
While it may seem like the craziness of “Urinetown” would drive viewers away from the show, it resulted in a theater experience different from what many students are used to, including reserved seating.
As for the actors’ takes, most seemed pleased with the product overall. Sophomore Victoria Flint, Dance Captain and member of the ensemble, reflected on the relationships she formed with fellow actors and musicians.
“Although stressful at times, the musical was a really fun project,” Flint said. “I really enjoyed spending time and getting close to so many awesome people.”
Flint also commented on the commitment that the play required.
“We didn’t get many breaks from rehearsals leading up to the show, which I think played a factor in many cast members getting sick,” Flint said. “The first month of production, we spent about eight hours a week [rehearsing], and as we got closer to the show, the rehearsals grew longer, to about three hours a day.”
“Urinetown” includes social commentary applicable not only to the United States as a whole but also the state of California specifically.
“‘Urinetown’ definitely relates to modern society because California is frequently in a drought, and the ideology expressed through the hero and villain of the musical is very similar to our politics today,” Braunstein said.