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