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SUBVERSIVE EXPECTATIONS: ‘Urinetown’ satirizes good versus bad

Mathis Turner plays Bobby in “Urinetown,” which Thalian Association will open on August 15.
Photo by Erik Maasch Photography

 

Corporate greed versus social responsibility. Populism versus bureaucracy. Good versus evil. 

Welcome to “Urinetown”—a musical that takes on the rich versus the poor, in the form of a government that has allowed mega-corporation Urine Good Company to make its citizens pee in public restrooms only—and pay to do so—thanks to the water shortage. If they don’t, they’re sent to the penal colony, Urinetown.

Naturally, a revolt occurs.

“Of the story, I love the subversion of expectations,” says director Patrick Basquill, who’s been itching to take on this show for many years. “The story of an oppressive, bureaucratic, money-driven corporate community and those who wish to be equal is especially prescient. It’s a massive divide between the wealthy and poor, but the main thing I love about the show is blending the community. It’s like humanity turned up to 11. You might think you know who the bad guy is, you might think you know who the good guy is, but in each individual mind, they are the good guy. It’s important to remember how selfish we are when we consider other people.”

Basquill got his start in local theatre (even performed his first show at age 9 at Hannah Block, where Thalian Association is putting on “Urinetown”). Though he’s been working on music videos and producing commercials recently, when Thalian’s artistic director Chandler Davis agreed for him to do the show, he jumped at the chance.

“I’d been hounding Chandler about letting me direct something,” he tells, “and when I say hounding, I mean it. Our relationship has seriously deteriorated because I was hassling her so bad. I made her give me ‘Urinetown’ because I wanted to play in the fantastical universe.”

Oppressive rules in a police state based on fear and class inequality speaks to many topics we face in 2019—though the show was written in 2001, with music by Mark Hollmann, lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, and book by Kotis. “I think the most important topic covered is compromise and communication; no one does it,” Basquill says. “There is no bending in this universe—you either give in or you’re broken, or you break and do something you never thought you’d do.”

 

 

Mathis Turner plays a man for the people, Bobby Strong. Strong is the assistant to authoritarian Penelope Pennywise, who runs the filthiest urinal in town. It’s not until he meets Hope Caldwell that a fire strikes for him to make change.

“I love the determination and leadership Bobby shows when leading the people of the town,” Mathis tells. “He is almost driven by his love for Hope, as much as he is by helping the people.”

Rachel Walter takes on the role of Hope. It’s no accident her name implies as much either. “Hope is analytical and takes everything literally,” Walter highlights. “The quality persists as she transforms from Disney-princess-ingenue to rebel leader. . . . The show emphasizes how the difference between right and wrong is grey, not black and white.”

The director and actors admit the show’s strong message of unity emerges despite the mile-a-minute quips within the script (and getting hit with a mallet frequently).  The idea is to work together more to create change, something easily adaptable in our divided political nation.

“Run Freedom Run” utilizes the ensemble to showcase revolt and the battle cries of freedom. It’s music director Thaddaeus Freidline’s favorite tune. Freidline leads on piano, with Joe Dowdy on trombone, Laura York on clarinet and saxophone, Vince Stout on percussion, and Jack Warfield on bass.

“There is a broad array of genres covered,” he tells. “The show pays homage to many different eras of musical theatre— from jazz to opera to gospel to contemporary musical theatre.”

Costumes have been constructed and assembled by Allyson Mojica. “It shows the approximation of a desolate future, but how it was imagined in the ‘80s,” Basquill says. Tymoteusz Dvorak has created a set that showcases various levels to depict class separation.

“The same is true with all our props, our goal is to make this set as tactile and real as possible, mainly so the actors can play and be as free as they want and can be,” according to Basquill.

DETAILS
Urinetown: The Musical
Aug. 15 – 25, Thurs. – Sat., 7:30 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m. • $20-$25
Hannah Block Historic USO Building, 120 S 2nd St.
910-251-1788
www.thalian.org

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