Greetings from Urinetown

By Emma Melling

Emma is a senior staff writer and editor-in-chief of the Talon. She is passionate about journalism, writing, literature, and French. Emma plans to attend Bethel University in the fall and double major in English and Journalism. She enjoys writing features on arts and human interest topics and loves listening to people's stories. Her hobbies include reading, hiking and spending time with family.

Posted: November 10, 2016

The Minnehaha Players’ second production of the year gives the audience satire about government, corporations and people’s want for excess

A group of battered citizens huddle at the entrance to a filthy urinal, labeled Public Amenity #9. Hands grip clusters of coins, and the buildings from the poorest part of town add to the grimy atmosphere.

Observing the scene, a tall, persnickety woman looks down her nose at the poor and collects the fee required for individuals to use the urinal.

Practically shaking with rage and the need for a toilet, an older gentleman, Old Man Strong (senior Tom Haubrich), steps forward and asks for a free pass to use the urinal, “just this once.” Sneering, the woman named Penelope Pennywise (junior Lily Kline), launches into a song and hammers one single statement into everyone’s minds: “It’s a privilege to pee.”

Urinetown is a satirical musical that premiered on Broadway in 2001 and was performed by the Minnehaha players on Oct. 27, 28 and 29.

Based on the book by Greg Kotis, the play deals with themes of monopoly, capitalism, bureaucracy and other societal issues, seen through the lens of a town in which the “Urine Good Company” owns a monopoly on toilets. This situation inspires the townspeople to rise up in rebellion.

In the musical, serious social issues pervades the songs and satire. Junior Greta Hallberg, who played Hope Cladwell in the show, reflected on the message of the production.

“Don’t take your natural resources for granted and protect the environment,” she said. “Part of it is [the message] that everybody is somebody. Everyone has a heart, even criminals.”

This is a message that Hallberg’s character, Hope Cladwell, believed firmly in throughout the entirety of the show. In the song “Follow Your Heart,” a duet sung with Bobby Strong (senior Matthew Humason), Hope sings about each individual’s “compass” that leads and guides them, as well as the desires of both her and Bobby’s hearts.

“We all want a world filled with peace and with joy, with plenty of water for each girl and boy,” she sang. This desire is something that may be present in our society today. Knowing that it would be election season this fall, director Nicholas Freeman was influenced in his choice of the show Urinetown that deals with societal issues with exaggerated humor, he said during the teaser for the play.

Little Sally (freshman Grace Anderson) and Officer Lockstock (senior Eli Aronson) talk about the rebellion and the meaning of Urinetown.

Little Sally (freshman Grace Anderson) and Officer Lockstock (senior Eli Aronson) talk about the rebellion and the meaning of Urinetown. Photo by Ellie Beddingham.

Hallberg pointed out the satire’s purpose and stated that individuals must look deeper than the surface humor to find meaning.

“‘Urinetown,’ it seems so ridiculous to us that that would ever happen,” she said, “that we would have to pay to go to the bathroom, and yet through that, there is an ounce of truth that you have to find.”Choir teacher Karen Lutgen, who was the vocal director for the show, also found messages within the satire of Urinetown. 

“So many of the songs are sung in such a joking manner because of the satire,” she said, “but ‘Look at the Sky,’ there’s a message of hope that comes in that song. It is all about following your heart and looking outwards and chasing a big noble idea.”

‘Look at the Sky’ is a number sung by Bobby Strong and the poor people, who are dreaming of freedom from the constraints of their society. Junior Cynthia Garcia, who played Robbie the Stockfish in the show, was also struck by the message of this song. “Bobby is singing ‘Look at the Sky,'” said Garcia. “The sky represents freedom and justice, and that has a good message.”

Part of the production in the weeks leading up to opening weekend, Lugten had a chance to think deeper about some of the themes in the show.

“I really like the quote that the students chose for the back of the T-shirt,” she said. “It was ‘No one is innocent.’ There is this really profound message to be found in that no matter where you fall on the spectrum on any issue, there is fault in thinking that you are 100 percent right. There is a lot of virtue in listening to another opinion and seeing another thought.”

Filled with a myriad of themes and messages, Urinetown is a show that reminds individuals to follow their heart and stand up for their beliefs, according to Garcia. “If there is something that isn’t right,” she said, “You can stand up for what you believe in and you can make a huge impact for the people around you.”

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