ACT Theatre debuts satirical ‘Urinetown’

Photo+courtesy+of+Connor+Todd

Photo courtesy of Connor Todd

Connor Todd | @ce_todd, Contributing Writer

“Urinetown,” a self-aware and grotesque musical satire, is coming to Tuscaloosa County. The Actor’s Charitable Theatre, a community theatre group located in Northport, will premiere the musical on Feb. 6.

There are new rebels in town, and they’re fighting for a right they feel is inalienable. It’s a right that inspires the beggar and terrifies the billionaire, a right whose inevitability is known at the heart of every citizen. 

It’s the right to use the toilet.

Or, as Officer Lockstock, a character in the musical satire “Urinetown” might put it, it’s “the freedom to pee wherever you like, whenever you like, for as long as you like and with whomever you like.”

In this latest show from Northport’s Actor’s Charitable Theatre (the ACT), the audience is guided through a strange, sewer-inspired world by Lockstock, who addresses the audience directly. Joey Lay stars as Lockstock, providing witty meta-commentary throughout the show. In one of these moments, Lockstock comments that “nothing can kill a show like too much exposition,” to which Little Sally, played by Margaret Carr, replied, “Or a bad title, even? That could kill a pretty good show.”

“Urinetown” was written by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis and premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2001. It was then produced off Broadway but later appeared on Broadway that same year. The show’s Broadway stint lasted from September 2001 to January 2004, resulting in three Tony awards. Mary Kathryn Mathews directs the ACT’s rendition of “Urinetown.”

“‘Urinetown’ is special to me for a few different reasons,” Mathews said. “I saw the original cast perform this on Broadway in 2002. Ever since, I absolutely loved the show. When we were structuring this season and deciding which shows we would do, it finally fit. I just love this show. It makes fun of itself. It makes fun of the fact that the title is terrible, and that the premise of the show is terrible.”

The quirky musical satirizes greed and cheekily examines classism and economic inequality. 
According to Mathews, the show’s premise is relevant “no matter what is going on in the world politically.”

The performance is set in a dreary, post-apocalyptic future where all private bathrooms have been abolished due to years of drought and water shortages. The ensemble is split into two very different castes. One is a well-groomed and privileged minority dressed in bright, crisp colors; the other, a beige-clad, oppressed, grimey group of survivors. In this absurd world, the poor are forced to pay for entrance to public bathrooms and private urination is strictly banned.

The cast of “Urinetown” is made up of professional and amateur actors from Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas. Being a community theatre, anyone can audition for parts in ACT productions. 

“I love this cast,” Mathews said. “It’s an older cast, which is nice. I do love kids, but it’s nice to work with adults who can take direction.”

One of the cast members is Alabama student Maggie Butler, a senior marketing major who stars as Hope Caldwell.

“I think [‘Urinetown’] is really fun from a musical theatre perspective,” Butler said. “Because it’s a satire, it draws from many different styles of musical theatre.”

Butler has been working with the ACT since 2017, and the organization has become like family to her, she said.

“It gives you exposure to a lot of people and different ideals, so it really keeps you from being sheltered,” Butler said.

Jon Hancock, who plays the musical’s main protagonist and hero-type Bobby Strong, has been with the ACT for two years. He, like Butler, enjoys the sense of community that acting gives him.

“Community theatre can give you a family and a sense of belonging,” Hancock said. “You always get to know people really well, and you come to care for them a lot.”

Another perk of the community theatre experience is the age diversity in casting, which is less possible in University productions.

“You’re always going to have college kids, but there are also older members of the community involved,” Hancock said. “We have UA professors and a doctor from UAB, so there’s a really interesting mix of people. It’s really fun.”

The daringly self-aware “Urinetown” lives in a space right between ridiculous and genius, constantly shifting between the two. The fourth wall is constantly toppled. The set design is reminiscent of a horror movie basement, and the production takes no prisoners when mocking respected musicals like “Grease,” “Les Miserables” and the art of musical theatre as a whole. 

Yes, there is an incredible amount of toilet humor. The show features songs that are packed with meta-references and plenty of double entendres, with strong vocal performances in songs like “Run, Freedom, Run!” and “Tell Her I Love Her.” The musical accompaniment is energetic, with raucous showtunes played live by a five-piece jazz band.

Actors hope the success of “Urinetown” is in its ability to relentlessly parody its genre while remaining a quality piece of musical theatre.

“Urinetown” premieres Thursday, Feb. 6. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for students and seniors. Students can receive $1 off their ticket online by entering the promo code, “Urine.” More information and tickets can be found at theactonline.com