Friday, March 3, 2017

Why Is Urinetown The Perfect Play For Now?

I first saw Urinetown in 2001, shortly after it opened on Broadway and not too long after September 11th. I was in New York City for a weekend with some college friends and I had been told that if there was one show to see on Broadway at that time, it was Urinetown. The title seemed strange but it intrigued me. On the surface, it came across as extremely comical and absurd – hey, we all needed that right after 9/11, right? We yearned for laughter and a little irreverence. Yet underneath that, the musical was dark, grim and poignant. It made a bold statement about our political system – which was on everyone’s mind then, even if we all were tired of talking and hearing about it. Sound familiar?

It succeeded in making me laugh until my belly hurt and yet its underlying message stayed with me for weeks afterward. While it posed some serious questions about society and the future of our world, it also managed to hilariously pay homage to the American musical comedy and to musical theatre form and structure altogether. The book was stellar and the production numbers were energetic, gigantic and fun. It was everything you wanted a musical to be, and more, and at the time it was like no other show I had ever seen before. It became one of my favorite musicals, and yet I never dreamed that I would be lucky enough to direct a production of it almost 16 years later.

When BoHo was searching for a musical for its 2017 season, Urinetown came up as a possible option and I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. I was reluctant at first to direct the show because I knew how difficult it was going to be to pull off this enormous musical-- and pull it off well. But I knew that, just like in 2001, now is the perfect moment for this story to be told. And there is no other company that I would rather tell it with than BoHo.

Urinetown resonates with what is happening with the state of our country and our world at this very moment, just like it did sixteen years ago. Not only because it touches on hefty themes like political corruption, corporate greed, environmental and economic catastrophe, the battle over basic human rights, mistrust and fear of law enforcement, class warfare and over-population-- but also because at the heart of the show lies a revolution. The concept of unexpected, unlikely voices finding strength and rising-up is central to this story. That is what excited me about telling it and why it is so important for it to be told at this exact point in time. It asks one of the bravest and most important moral questions imaginable: Are you willing to do what is right, even if your accomplishments never add up to anything tangible? In a postmodern, cynical world, it’s a question that demands to be asked and considered.

Stephen Schellhardt,
Director of BoHo's Urinetown

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Purely Fiction World of Urinetown

"He who laughs has not yet heard the bad news.”
-Bertold Brecht

Imagine a world where people must pay to carry out one of the most basic human functions. A world where times are so bad that big business ideology is the law, and the top 1% is the only percent that could possibly prevail. A world where fear is the guiding force of politics and socio-economic status. A completely, utterly, wholly fictional world like this is difficult to imagine, I know (no, really!) ... but such is the world of Urinetown.

Not only does the show challenge us to imagine this theatrical world, but it also asks us to re-examine the form of musical theatre. It is a show that breaks all the typical conventions… Not only breaks, but laughs at! A show that makes you chuckle while you cringe. Daniel Marcus, who played Officer Barrel when it opened in New York, called it “a love letter to the American musical in the form of a grenade.”

Why produce this hilarious, satirical, completely fictional, catchy and clever account of a mythical place called Urinetown, you ask?

I don’t know. I enjoyed the music.

-Peter Marston Sullivan,
BoHo Theatre Artistic Director

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Why Produce Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice?

It takes a playwright of uncommon bravery to write the kinds of cryptic stage directions that Sarah Ruhl uses in EURYDICE. Directions like "He picks her up and throws her into the sky" or "He creates a room of string. It takes time to build a room out of string" or simply "Time passes." Many playwrites would be tempted to spell out in detail what should happen in these scenes and these moments, but Ruhl leaves all of this up to the imaginations of the play's creative team. She invites us to be creative partners and to invent a truly unique experience.

This is part of what inspired me to direct this play: the opportunity to gather a team of talented artists and create this play together, as an ensemble, in a way that is personal and meaningful to us. This invitation to be playful and explore the play from new perspectives is what led us to tear apart the Heartland Studio to create a whole new audience configuration, to match the poetry of the words with stylized movement and original music, and to cast a young woman in the male role of Orpheus. We can confidently proclaim that this is a production of EURDICE like none you have seen before.

For me, all of this artistry is aimed at a very personal message: At the heart of this weird little play is danger and tragedy of not being able to let go of the people we love when their time with us is over. We will all deal with loss and change in our lives. Maybe you have already. It is part of being human. Everything in life, including this production, will eventually be over and gone. But we cannot spend so much time looking back that we never look ahead. And in this play, and in the courage and love and creativity that our artists pour into each performance, I am reminded of this lesson.

Charles Riffenburg
Eurydice Director