Hold it in for QMT’s Urinetown

The cast and crew of Urinetown are busy this month preparing for their January opening.
The cast and crew of Urinetown are busy this month preparing for their January opening.
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Queen’s will be the first university in Canada to perform Urinetown.
Queen’s will be the first university in Canada to perform Urinetown.
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Theatre Preview: QMT’s presentation of Urinetown, January 2006

Since their establishment and first production, The Boyfriend, in 1969, Queen’s Musical Theatre has seen its fair share of musicals. This coming January, they will be adding a new show to their repertoire when they become the first university in Canada to produce the three-time Tony Award winner Urinetown.

As a joint effort between Mark Hollman (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics), this is not your average musical.

True to its name, the play is in fact about peeing. The story centres itself in a Gotham-like city, where a water shortage caused by a 20-year drought leads to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. The citizens are forced to use public amenities controlled by a single monopolizing company that profits by charging admission—until an optimistic young hero, named Bobby Strong, emerges and instigates the citizens to revolt.

“It was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” said QMT director Rachel Slaven of the first time she saw the show. “In the hilarity you don’t realize that it’s making you think, because you’re too busy having fun.”

While Urinetown is quite comic in the sense that it embraces the conventions of the musical while simultaneously poking fun at them, it poses questions about more serious issues, like problems with sustainable development.

Urinetown is a relatively new musical, having completed a successful five-week run in Toronto after a nearly two-year stint on Broadway that ended in 2004. Yet Slaven and co-designer Rob Kempson made it clear that they were not interested in copying anything that’s been seen before. They gave the Journal a backstage peek at the time and effort that goes into a QMT production.

“The original set was kept in mind, but we designed it to serve our purpose and production,” Slaven said.

The show, like many musicals, has an ensemble cast which can sometimes make it hard for actors to showcase the dimensions of their characters. However, QMT has given characters their own spin, aiming to help them stand out amongst a cast that is almost always on stage together.

November represents a crucial part of the rehearsal process, with upwards of 15 hours of rehearsal per week. Slaven explained that in a typical rehearsal the actors do physical exercises and play with various voice intonations to give each character a distinct identity.

Each actor was granted significant input into characterization, to make sure their characters’ distinctive attributes fit with their comfort level. One character has a chronic cold and another a pet bird.

Almost as distinct as the characters in the production are the actors themselves, who range from first-and fourth-year drama majors to third-year life science students. Students, and even one second-year engineering student, proving there is something for everyone.

With more than fifty people involved in the creation of the production, there is abundant opportunity for participating students to form new friendships.

First-year student Michael Ceci said he has found that QMT gave him a new and more productive way to spend his free time while meeting people.

“If I wasn’t here I’d be playing video games in my room,” he said.

According to co-producer Erick Calder and publicity manager Gordon Chan, the only bump in the road thus far has been the name of the production.

“The challenge will be bridging the gap between the name and the production,” Calder said.

Nonetheless, they have faith that students will be receptive to the production, because of its unique nature—including its name, which perhaps might work for them by drawing people’s attention.

The show is a satirical, tongue-in-cheek look at the conventional musical, which may be a little risky, especially when performed to the greater Kingston audience. Yet given the renovation of QMT’s usual venue, the Grand Theatre, and their relocation to the smaller Convocation Hall, Calder feels Urinetown is a perfect fit for this season.

“We had an opportunity where we only had to fill one third of the seats we would normally have,” Calder said. “This was the year to do a musical like this, to take a risk.”

With this opportunity seized, Urinetown is well on its way to fruition. Slaven said everything is finally being put together.

“Right now we’re where we expected to be in the rehearsal process,” Slaven said. Full scenes are now being run with the actors and band. The acting and singing component will be ready by December, leaving set construction and technical rehearsals for the first week of January.

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