OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego’s presentation of “Urinetown: The Musical” offers a satirical view on what many communities experience: official corruption, corporate greed and an ecological crisis.
The college’s spring musical will take the stage at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 21, and Sunday, April 22, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, April 26 and 27, with a matinee finale at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 28.
All performances are at Waterman Theatre of Tyler Hall.
The Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman play deals with the effects of a severe water shortage in a town that charges its citizens to use privately owned restrooms. The play is “a wickedly funny, fast-paced and surprisingly intelligent comedic romp,” writes Stage Agent.
Director Jonel Langenfeld of SUNY Oswego’s theatre department sees the over-the-top fictional situation as analogous to what modern society regularly confronts.
“What everyone will laugh at is every community has these things going on,” she said. A person in power, in this case, restroom magnate Caldwell B. Cladwell, takes advantage of people by charging them money for a bodily necessity, with banishment to the dread Urinetown as punishment for violators.
The college’s production of “Urinetown,” a Tony Award-winning musical during its Broadway run in 2001-04, has been in the works for about a year, from conception to its final days of rehearsals. “We’re always researching, prepping, reading, thinking, planning, visualizing and creating,” Langenfeld said.
The director has spent time in West Africa and India — in desert regions where people don’t have easy access to water — for projects that involved storytelling for social justice, which seems fitting for the production about this drought-stricken land.
Her concept for the play derives, in part, from “The Twilight Zone,” a still-revered 1960s science fiction TV show.
“This show is a lot like that: How did I end up in this land? This is a weird situation — sci-fi once-upon-a-time has become reality,” she said, noting that the crisis over lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, doesn’t stray too far from this concept.
Moody, dark lighting and fog enveloping the abstract set of the public restroom, sewer and streets of “Urinetown” will represent the serious undertones of the story.
There are 26 students in the cast; the crew numbers about the same, including students and professional staff. The crew’s production meetings consist of a representative from each crew section tossing ideas and technical questions across the room in a kind of constant rhythm.
Sound designer T.J. Bandla asks how loudly the audience should hear the cast saying their “oohs” and “aahs,” while scenic designer Ola Kraszpulska asks for exact measurements for where important props should be placed.
Though not heavily adapting “Urinetown,” Langenfeld said she is constantly discovering things about its less obvious satire and its serious and touching moments, sprinkled throughout the musical.
Some moments are more obvious: The audience will get to see Cladwell (Douglas Woolever) perched on a giant desk — to show how big an ego the power-hungry person has — then watch as he’s bodily taken down by the ensemble and hauled away as he yowls for what seems to be more than 30 seconds.
With the help of the music, these moments are meant to engage the audience and pay homage to other musicals like “West Side Story” and “Les Misérables,” said music director Robert Allen. “The composer has written some engaging, sometimes difficult music that actually holds together quite well,” Allen noted. “It’s fun, challenging, witty, entertaining, irreverent and filled with puns and jokes.”
Allen works closely with the entire production staff, including senior theatre major and stage manager Cadi Hannold. She is responsible for running production meetings, scheduling and making sure the cast members are on time, prepared and have all the things they need. Hannold works alongside all the designers — set, lighting, sound and costuming — and says, “In a nutshell the stage manager does everything that’s not artistic.”
This is Hannold’s 12th SUNY Oswego production; she describes herself as “seasoned.” Being part of the “Urinetown” production opened her eyes more to what she describes as one of the best things about theatre. “It’s a silly show at times, but when you actually sit down and listen, it talks about water crisis, the environment dying and political people in charge in a corrupt government and the little guys that want to rise up,” Hannold said. “You can talk about these things and kind of subconsciously give these messages to the audience.”
People love going to musicals to escape issues, but this one puts it right back in your face and you can still laugh at it, Langenfeld said. “I’m always trying to find that serious undertone because there needs to be that. This show is any town, any situation.”
Among the student crew members are Wyatt Gilbert (assistant director), Nicole Caroselli and Mary Reid (assistant stage managers), Devin Croad (master electrician), and Greg West and Kristina Parker (sound crew).
Tickets for “Urinetown: The Musical” are $15 ($7 for students with a valid SUNY Oswego ID) and are available at all SUNY Oswego box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-2141.
Parking is included in the price of a ticket and is available in the employee and commuter lots in front of Culkin Hall and behind Hart and Funnelle residence halls.
People with disabilities needing assistance should call 315-312-2141 in advance of a performance.
For more information about the production, visit the production’s Dramaturgy Hub at https://sites.google.com/oswego.edu/utownhub/home.
“Urinetown,” coincidentally, helps set the stage for SUNY Oswego’s upcoming Grand Challenges project, “Fresh Water for All,” a two-year, cross-campus effort starting this fall that will attempt to make substantial impacts on this imperative global issue.