'Urinetown,' a satiric musical comedy about a dystopian future, comes to Actor's Express

"Urinetown," a hilarious musical comedy about a dystopian future, is opening Feb. 4 at Actor's Express. (Photo by Casey Gardner Ford)

 Have you ever gone to the bathroom al fresco? And did that relatively commonplace act start a social and political revolution that upended your entire world and brought down a corporate empire? If so, you might be living in the dystopian future predicted by “Urinetown,” the hilarious musical that first opened to wide acclaim on Broadway in 2001. A new production of “Urinetown” is opening Feb. 4 at Actor’s Express, and includes student actors from Oglethorpe University among its professional cast. “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes was joined for a conversation by the director of the show and Actor’s Express artistic director Freddie Ashley, along with actor Russell Scott, who will play the role of Bobby Strong.

Interview highlights:

A satiric future dystopia of potty fascism:

“It takes place in a future in which a drought has forced everyone to have highly regulated water usage, which of course, includes how they go to the bathroom. And a giant corporation controls the public urinals, which are the only place that’s permitted for people to go answer nature’s call, and they’re in cahoots with the government to keep the prices really high and keep the people under their grip,” recounted Ashley. “Then, a young revolutionary named Bobby Strong comes along and leads the poor in an uprising so that they can assert their freedom to pee freely, as they say, wherever they want, and with whomever they want.”

How Bobby Strong evolves from oppressed everyman to radical dreamer:

“Many times throughout the beginning of the show, you will hear several characters that tell Bobby to ‘keep his head out of the clouds,’ though as he goes through life, Bobby just always his head in the clouds looking out at what could possibly be, and what he might be able to achieve,” said Scott. “He’s very passionate, a very passionate character; almost too passionate…. He actually loses his father due to the corporation, and he actually meets Hope Gladwell, and Hope teaches him to follow his heart. That’s one of their duets together.” Scott added, “That is the pivotal moment in the show where Bobby decides that he’s going to start a revolution and that he is going to turn on the UGC – Urine Good Company – and start a revolt.”

A poignant commentary on systemic oppression and disaster capitalism:

“As with any good satire, it really holds up a mirror to where we are ourselves, and it also, I think, becomes relevant in new ways as time goes on, which is why the show was a huge hit when it premiered just over 20 years ago,” said Ashley. “There are those potential warnings about the use of resources and how we manage that. But I think that the larger satire is really sort of poking at the systems we have in place to keep the poor where they are, and the influence of corporate entanglement with government to serve those at the top of the food chain.”

“I think that that is something that the play deals with in all kinds of ways, even though it does sort of flip that on its head… with the social breakdown that happens when all of this is upended, and I think that the play is operating on a number of different levels, “Ashley continued. “I think more than trying to necessarily teach us something, [it aims to] get us to kind of look at how we understand it from our present worldview and our current circumstances, and that will change year to year as the world changes around it.”

An interesting new aesthetic to the look of ‘Urinetown:’

“We have taken our own approach with this production. The physical production is inspired by Brutalist architecture, which came about in England, and then really raged through Europe and the states in the ’50s and ’60s after the Second World War, and is utilitarian and imposing and meant to evoke authority. And we looked at some social parallels between how that architectural style related to its social circumstances, and how that translates into something futuristic… Brutalism itself was futuristic, in a way. And so we have this wide range of influences that spun out from that central initial impulse.”

“So there are a lot of ’60s-inspired clothes in the show, but also with a futuristic spin. There are even some nods, because of the play’s Brechtian structure… to some of those sort of older Brechtian ideas. We even went a little further back, and looked at the scenic design work of Joseph Svoboda and included some of the way he used lines in his study designs in Germany, and came up with a design that has a sort of sense of scale and scope and foreboding, but also is something that is interesting and unexpected.”

“Urinetown” is on stage at Actor’s Express Feb. 4 – 19. Tickets and more information are available at https://actors-express.com/event-details-urinetown/