You wouldn’t think a show about toilets — and the lack of access to those facilities — would be a big deal.
But you’d be wrong.
“Urinetown: The Musical” is “the biggest show we’ve done here, in my memory,” said Jennifer Sassaman, the show’s director and choreographer at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
That’s due to all the technical aspects of mounting the Broadway show, she said.
“Urinetown,” which pays homage to Broadway musicals while it satirizes them, fits with UW-Parkside’s mission of producing pieces “that are challenging for our students,” she said.
Sassaman also has a more personal connection to this show. She performed in “Urinetown” last summer in Vermont in a theater company she runs.
“It’s hilarious,” she said of the show, which debuted on Broadway in 2001. “And there’s the whole spectacle of it. The design elements in the play are so important, too. And even though the show isn’t new, it’s still very topical with themes of finite resources, income inequality and the greed of the wealthy elites.”
“Urinetown” is funny, she added, “but there are serious topics in it. Comedy can be a great way to get across serious themes.”
Samuel Fitzwater-Butchart, who plays Officer Lockstep, functions as both a character in the show and the narrator.
He had seen “Urinetown” before taking on this role — his father directed a 2009 production at UW-Whitewater — and was attracted to this character because “he is equal parts warm and hard. There’s a lot of nuance to him. He’s incredibly welcoming and is a liaison to the audience but then turns menacing.”
Samantha Feiler, who plays Little Sally, likes “how the musical pays homage to different types of musicals. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack forever, and I said I have to be in that show.”
Little Sally, she said, “is so smart and precocious. She notices everything and brings such life to the play, which is funny but also super dark in places. She’s a fun character to play.”
Ariana Gibeault is playing the character Hope, the daughter of the bad guy.
“She has such a wide range of emotions,” Gibeault said. “During the show, she’s kidnapped, falls in love and finally wakes up to what’s happening around her. She undergoes such a transformation and is really fun to play.”
What sets “Urinetown” apart from other shows, the director said, is that “the six principal roles are archetypes — the innocent kid, the heroine — and then it plays with our expectations of these characters.”
The show is also “a marathon to perform,” Gibeault said. The actors run around a set that depicts a post-industrial, urban setting.
And it’s not only a challenge for the people on stage, Sassaman said.
“There’s a whole team working on this show,” she said. “The lighting director had so many light cues to program, it was more than our light board could handle.
“Our students, faculty members, staff members and outside designers are all working to create this show.”
A key component of “Urinetown,” she added, is that “everybody is singing in every number. There are 19 named characters in this show, and everybody learned all the songs. This show is a true ensemble.”