‘Urinetown The Musical’ trickles its way to the Nashville Rep stage

cast of Urinetown The Musical

Jacob York, Chip Arnold, Galen Crawley, Mitchell Ryan Miller, Mariah Parris and Megan Murphy Chambers perform in Nashville Rep's Urinetown The Musical

We know, we know. It’s hard to get past the title. But if you do, we assure you Nashville Repertory Theatre’s 35th season opener Urinetown The Musicalwhich runs from September 14-29 in TPAC’s Johnson Theater, is potty humor at its best and easy to digest.

There are many indications right off the bat that tell you this isn’t going to be your average musical.

The first comes with townsfolk wandering about before the show’s opening, clutching their bladders and interacting with the set as the house lights still blaze brightly. In my case, the cast’s dedication to staying in dusty, poverty-stricken character was demonstrated when they all hilariously rushed toward an audience member who accidentally dropped some candy on the floor before being shooed off by one of the police officers.

The second indication comes as Officer Lockstock, who narrates the show, welcomes the audience to Urinetown The Musical and goes on to tell the tale of the fictitious place, not the 2002 Tony Award-winning Broadway show. As the fourth wall is broken throughout the play, it’s both amusing and refreshing to see a musical that knows it’s a musical and repeatedly reminds you it’s a musical.

Directing the show is Jason Tucker, recently music director of last year’s sold out production of Avenue Q at the Rep. According to Tucker, there’s a reason this has stood the test of time.

“I’ve been directing musical theater for 35 years. I’m drawn to Urinetown and I’ve yet to see a version I don’t enjoy,” Tucker said. “Part of the buzz, I think, is literally the title. People always say, ‘did you just say Urinetown?’ or ‘is that seriously what it’s called?’ They feel like it’s a risk. I think it’s brilliant.”

Urinetown castt on stage pointing upward

Mitchell Ryan Miller and the ensemble of Nashville Rep’s Urinetown: The Musical

The unsanitary story goes like this.

In the not-so-distant future, a terrible water shortage caused by a 20-year drought leads to a government-forced ban on private toilets. The citizens must use public amenities, regulated by a single malevolent company that profits by charging admission for one of humanity’s most basic needs. Amid the people, a hero decides he’s had enough and leads the poor to rise up and fight for the freedom to go “wherever you like, whenever you like, for as long as you like, and with whomever you like!”

Tucker has assembled a cast of Nashville favorites and new faces to bring this silly satire to the stage. Galen Crawley and Jacob York lead as comedic duo Little Sally and narrator Officer Lockstock. Mitchell Ryan Miller stars as Bobby Strong alongside Mariah Parris as ingenue Hope Cladwell. Chip Arnold plays the malevolent Caldwell B. Cladwell and Megan Murphy Chambers plays Penelope Pennywise, manager of the poorest public restroom in town.

“This is my third time directing this show for a reason – I find something new every time I do it,” Tucker said. “Particularly because there’s always a new cast of characters I’m working with that see things I don’t. I don’t tell them what to do as much as we all work together to create our own Urinetown. It always feels fresh.”

Luckily, there’s so much more than potty humor here. This satire alludes to capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, municipal politics and musical theatre itself. The show parodies popular Broadway musicals such as The Threepenny OperaThe Cradle Will Rock and Les Misérables.

“Urinetown actually came out at a time with a lot of fear and patriotic unity, but it’s kind of a different country now. Because of the current political climate, this show feels weirdly even more relevant now than it did when it came out almost 20 years ago.”

It also has all the classic ingredients of a root-for-the-underdog, boy-meets-girl romance – the full-hearted protagonist, the wide-eyed dream girl, the cartoonishly-evil big wigs and Little Sally who innocently pesters our narrator throughout the show. With her childlike naiveté, Little Sally somehow always asks the right questions, such as why the show focuses only on toilets rather than other issues affected by a 20-year drought like bathing or hydraulics. But as Officer Lockstock explains, “it’s easier for the audience to digest just one issue – and it’s easier to write.”

angry crowd on stage in Urinetown The Musical

Galen Crawley and the ensemble of Nashville Rep’s Urinetown: The Musical

Inspired by the works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, Urinetown The Musical is a comedic romp with avant-garde perspective, modern wit and a sustained ability to produce guilty laughs from the audience.

Tucker and his creative team (which includes assistant musical director Kelsi Fulton, choreographer Pam Atha and designers Gary C. Hoff, Randy Craft, Dalton Hamilton, Colleen Garaoni and Amanda Creech, technical director Christopher L. Jones and production stage manager Teresa Driver) has also assembled a talented ensemble cast, with each voice a force and each character an asset to Urinetown‘s clever and well-timed humor – Derek Whittaker, Matthew Carlton, Samuel Whited, Rona Carter, Garris Wimmer, Tamiko Robinson Steele, Scott Rice, Meggan Utech, Mike Sallee, Maria Logan, Juan Graterol and Ayla Williams.

By the show’s conclusion, you may be like Little Sally pondering what kind of musical this is. Well, Officer Lockstock would have me remind you that it isn’t supposed to be a happy one. It’s a comedic parody full of mixed signals, untimely death, hope for tomorrow and an ultimately uncertain future. On one hand, this show makes you think about the corporate greed in our world today wanting to regulate and profit off our metaphorical toilets. But on the other hand, Urinetown acts as a refreshing reminder of the do-gooders who act on principle without regard to the injustices of their reality.

Who would have thought the subject of public urination could be so charming and thought-provoking at the same time?

For Tucker, this show couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Urinetown actually came out a few days after 9/11, a time with a lot of fear as well as unity,” Tucker said. “But because of the current political climate, this show feels weirdly even more relevant now than it did when it came out almost 20 years ago. There’s something universal and timeless about the script.”

Nashville Rep opens its 35th season with Urinetown The Musical, running through September 29. Performances are at 7: 30 p.m. Thurs-Sat, and 2:30 p.m. Sat-Sun. For more information, call TPAC Box Office at 615-782-4040 or visit nashvillerep.org.

Stay for a Talkback

After one Friday evening performance, the director, cast, and crew will take the stage for a Talkback about the show. Get your tickets for September 20 to discuss the show and learn more.

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