“A tyrant has taken over the city … and he has set up a system where everyone has to pay to pee,” “Urinetown’s” director Robert Chapel said.
It may not sound like anything one would expect from a musical, but nonetheless, the Department of Drama’s spring offering opened last weekend to an excellent audience reception. The show, which tells the story of an oppressed underclass that rises up against a pee-taxing tyrant, is running Tuesday to Friday of this week, with a final matinee show Saturday.
If the opening weekend was any indication, the cast members and directors agree the quirky, unique musical will be a hit. Third-year College student Jack Gereski, who plays one of the show’s leads, Bobby Strong, said “Urinetown” is unlike any other musical he’s seen.
“Opening night was crazy,” Gereski said. “The cast is loving [the show] and the audience will too.”
Robert Chapel, the former chair of the University’s Department of Drama, has returned from retirement to direct the production — one that he said is “not your typical musical.” He agreed with Gereski’s assessment of the opening weekend.
“They were amazing, the audience went nuts, both nights,” he said. “I’ve been directing a lot of shows for many years, and I don’t recall having an audience be so scream-crazy about the show. It was great fun.”
Though it’s an unusual show in many ways, Chapel thought it would still strike a chord with the audience, especially among students. He noted that the show’s fictional town is placed in such dire straits as the result of a 20-year drought — a sort of issue which plagues parts of the real world today.
“It’s ecologically very current, in terms of water shortages and what the world is going through,” he said.
First-year College student Payton Moledor, another lead actor starring as Hope Cladwell, shared similar sentiments, as did Gereski, who said the show is “very relevant right now.”
“I think ‘Urinetown’ is very different from a lot of shows that have been done at U.Va. in the past few years because it addresses important issues,” Moledor said. “The music is wonderful and the choreography is fun and it’s exciting to watch, but at the same time you leave questioning your life.”
She also noted there are plenty of fresh faces onstage in this production.
“There are a lot of people who haven’t performed in a U.Va. drama show before but are so talented,” Moledor said. Moledor, a first-year, and Gereski, a third-year, has never performed before for the Department of Drama, but Chapel quelled any doubts as to their experience or ability.
“Both of these actors are real theatre people,” he said. “They’re very at home onstage … There was never a question in my mind that they’d be able to handle the roles, and they have.”
Chapel described his directorial approach to the show as slightly hands-off — “more of an editor,” he said, guiding the actors’ choices onstage, rather than a director making the decisions for them. This approach is best, he said, with talented actors who will make good choices on their own.
“I was very blessed with having a really tremendous group of actors,” Chapel said. “I love to trust actors who have good instincts, and these people do.”
Moledor said she’d appreciated Chapel’s open-minded approach, explaining that having more artistic control made her actions on stage feel more natural.
“This is my favorite thing that I’ve worked on in a really long time,” she said. “This entire semester I’ve been in a place where I felt like I could make artistic decisions, which doesn’t always happen when you’re rehearsing for a show.”
While “Urinetown” is so quirky and outside-the-box that it almost defies description, the cast members and director are certain of one thing — just how enjoyable the show is, both as an audience member and a performer.
“It’s so much fun,” Moledor said. “There were a couple moments [on opening night] where we had to hold for laughs and weren’t expecting to.”
Chapel was no less enthused.
“I think that especially the University community will respond to this in a good way,” he said. “We’d love to have full houses at every show.”
“Urinetown” will be showing at 8:00 p.m. in Culbreth theater weekdays through April 6, with a final Saturday matinee April 7 at 2:00 p.m.
by Thomas Rhodes