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Theatre / Urinetown

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Urinetown is an American musical dark comedy by Mark Holloman and Greg Kotis, about a dystopian future in which there has been a catastrophic drought, and the Urine Good Company and its CEO Caldwell B. Cladwell have gotten laws passed outlawing private restrooms and requiring payment for the usage of public ones, so as to conserve water. Those who do not pay for "The Privilege to Pee" are sent to a mysteriously ominous place known only as Urinetown. For twenty years the poor have been oppressed by ridiculous prices, until one day a young Public Amenity attendant named Bobby Strong leads an uprising of the Poor against the tyranny of their oppressors.

The original Broadway production was directed by John Rando and featured John Cullum as Cladwell and Hunter Foster as Bobby. It opened at Henry Miller's Theatre on September 10, 2001 and closed January 18, 2004, garnering rave reviews during its tenure, as well as ten Tony nominations.


Urinetown provides examples of:

  • All There in the Script: Many of the characters have names which are never spoken, such as Hot Blades Harry and Little Becky Two-Shoes (who both sing "Snuff that Girl"), as well as Robby the Stockfish, Billy Boy Bill, Soupy Sue, and Tiny Tom.
    • As well as Bobby's mother, Josephine, who apparently married a man named Joseph.
  • Angry Mob Song: Multiple. The righteous anger expressed in "Look at the Sky" becomes sadistic and murderous in "Snuff That Girl" and ultimately, "We're Not Sorry".
  • Arc Words: Today/Tomorrow. Bobby, Hope, and the revolutionaries care about Today, as in living day to day while Caldwell and the UGC care about Tomorrow and planning ahead. Tomorrow ends up being the right path to take; once those in favor of 'Today' take over, the water dries up.
  • Audience Surrogate: Little Sally, who is there to ask all the questions the audience might ask, such as "what about hydraulics?" and "why such a godawful title?"
  • Bathos: It's a dark Orwellian satire about how environmental devastation forces people to choose between dystopian oppression and lawless anarchy that may be even worse, and has a seriously depressing ending. It's also a fourth-wall-breaking comedy because the civil rights the dissident revolutionaries are fighting for is...the right to pee without having to pay a fine.
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  • Better Than a Bare Bulb: We challenge you to find a Broadway musical cliché that's not parodied here.
  • Big Bad: Caldwell B. Cladwell, CEO of the UGC.
  • Big "WHAT?!": A big "WHAA-?" is used as a Running Gag.
  • Big "NO!": Shouted by Hope during the so-proclaimed Act One Finale. and there's also a Big RUN!.
  • Black Comedy: It's about a dystopian society where people have to pay to use the bathroom and are forced to hold it when they can't afford to do so, those who defy the rules being sent away to their deaths. It's a really dark premise, but at the same time kind of hysterical because of how ludicrous the idea is.
  • Break the Cutie: When Bobby Strong is sent to Urinetown, the normally innocent, albeit painfully naïve Hope Cladwell snaps completely, becomes the rebellion's new leader and murders her beloved father.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Officer Lockstock and Little Sally. Lockstock even refers to a plot twist that the audience will learn in the second act.
  • Co-Dragons: Officer Lockstock, head of the police, and Mr. McQueen Cladwell's assistant.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Numerous characters do this throughout the show. Hope especially misses the point of "Don't Be The Bunny".
    Hope: But Daddy, we're talking about people, not animals.
  • Dark Reprise: Spoilers abound here: "It's A Privilege to Pee" gets one final verse from Lockstock and Barrel in "Don't Be Like Him". "Urinetown" has no less than three - Hope's part of the Act I Finale, Lockstock and Barrel's part in "Why Did I Listen To That Man?", and the very end of "I See A River". "Follow Your Heart" has one after they take Bobby away to the UGC. Arguably, "We're Not Sorry" has one in "I'm Not Sorry" - this one has a tempo change from fast to slow. Only the reprise of "Follow Your Heart" has alternate lyrics - the choruses of "Urinetown" are very close, but changed for each situation, and the rest are just reused melodies.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Anyone sent to Urinetown is actually killed.
  • Fourth Wall Greeting: "Well, hello there, and welcome to Urinetownnote "
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Bobby being told he will end up like his father, who is sent to Urinetown in the first scene.
    • In "The Cop Song", the verse about Jacob Rosenbloom states that the jars he kept in his room "obligate[d] a trip to Urinetomb", which foreshadows that being sent to Urinetown is actually a death sentence.
    • Hope slightly (albeit unintentionally) manipulating Bobby by telling him what he feels in "Follow Your Heart", and her later insistence to her father that "love is the only thing that matters." Both foreshadow how by the end of the play she's more willing to keep the people's love through false platitudes than respond to the warning signs of a second drought.
  • Greek Chorus: Officer Lockstock narrates the play and Little Sally comes up to ask him Audience Surrogate questions with them both acknowledging that they're in a play.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Bobby's idealistic freedom fighters ultimately become bloodthirsty murderers, and their failure to plan for the future has dire consequences. Meanwhile, Cladwell is milking a horrible situation for personal profit and gleefully disregards the well-being of the poor, but his draconic policies of water conservation are keeping everyone alive...that is, until he is overthrown.
  • Inspired by...: The story was inspired by a homeless man who had enough money to either buy food or use a pay toilet, but not both.
  • Intro Dump: Parodied and Defied in "Too Much Exposition". invoked
    Officer Lockstock: Whoa there, Little Sally. Not all at once. They'll hear more about the water shortage in the next scene.
    Little Sally: Oh, I guess you don't want to overload them with too much exposition, huh?
    Officer Lockstock: Everything in its time, Little Sally. You're too young to understand it now, but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.
  • Jar Potty: Two of the offenders mentioned by Officers Lockstock and Barrel in "The Cop Song" were said to be sent to Urinetown for doing this.
    • Jacob Rosenbloom, who peed in jars he kept in his room.
    • Roger Roosevelt, who "kept a cup below his belt" before the cup was spilled and he, therefore, was caught.
  • Job Song: Two songs about jobs feature.
    • In "It's a Privilege to Pee", Ms. Pennywise sings about her job making sure people use the pay toilet.
    • In "The Cop Song", the cops sing about their job arresting people who violate the toilet laws.
  • Karmic Death: Cladwell, who's responsible for so many people being flung off roofs, is tossed off a roof to his death.
  • Kick the Dog: Or in this case, the Bunny. Mr. Cladwell raises this to an art form and then sings a helpful instructive song about inflicting misery and death on others for the sake of it: "Don't Be the Bunny."
  • Leitmotif: The music that plays when Cladwell and Penny meet again and when they discuss their pasts.
  • Meaningful Name / Punny Name: Bobby Strong, Hope, Penny Pennywise, Officers Lockstock and Barrel, and, of course, the Urine Good Company.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: "I See a River, Flowing for Freedom" is a great catchphrase for a new revolution, until you realize that all the water is gone, and the townsfolk keep telling themselves that saying "I See a River Just In You" means they won't die of dehydration.
  • Metaphorgotten:
    • On multiple occasions, Hope and Bobby seem to get a little confused on when they're talking about a metaphorical Follow Your Heart or a literal blood-pumping organ.
      Bobby: Did you mean what you said about everyone having a heart?
      Hope: Well, sure I did. Do you think you'd be feeling as bad as you do if you didn't have a heart?
      Bobby: I don't know. I suppose not.
      Hope: Of course you wouldn't because then you'd be dead!
    • Caldwell and Hope both seem to lose the point of "Don't Be The Bunny"; Caldwell by expanding on it too much and Hope by Comically Missing the Point.
      Hope: A little bunny at a tollbooth?
      Cladwell: You heard me.
      Hope: But Daddy, bunnies don't drive cars.
      Cladwell: Oh, don't they?!
      Hope: No, actually, I don't think they do.
  • Mood Whiplash: In the second act we go from the happy and upbeat gospel number "Run, Freedom Run", to "Why Did I Listen To That Man?", the only number in the show that isn't played for comedy first, and which includes the hero's death. It has a few funny moments, but it's often played straight, and when it is it can be extremely intense and stressful. And after Bobby dies, the rest of the songs in the show have a distinctly more depressing edge than all of the songs previous.
  • Mr. Exposition: Officer Lockstock. Little Sally appears to be a Narrator-In-Training, learning, for instance, not to reveal too much Exposition at the start of the story.
  • Nature Tinkling: In addition to it being the law to pay to use the bathroom, attempts to go around the law by relieving oneself outdoors are also severely punished. This is even addressed in "The Cop Song".
    Lockstock: Julie Cassidy/Went to a field behind a tree/Saw there was no one who could see her pee.
    Barrel: But me!
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The ending, when the heroes' overthrow of UGC results in an even worse drought.
  • Nobody Poops: Curiously played straight. Although urination is the "central conceit of the show", bowel movements don't seem to be a concern. They are mentioned exactly once, in a throw-away line in "Privilege to Pee", and never brought up again.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: UGC has its own police. Enough said.
    • Technically, the police just take bribes from the UGC, but in practice, they seem to follow whatever orders Cladwell gives them.
  • Parody: Of musicals and theater, to the point of being a Deconstruction. Examples:
    • The main plot parodies The Cradle Will Rock and the La Résistance as it's portrayed in Les Misérables.
    • "Look At The Sky" and "Act 1 Finale" are parodies of Les Mis as well, specifically "Do You Hear The People Sing?" and "One Day More".
    • "What Is Urinetown?" is a parody of Fiddler on the Roof. To the point where some casts do the famous wedding dance, using plungers.
    • "Snuff That Girl" is a parody of West Side Story, specifically "Cool". In the Original Broadway production, the cast also banged on parts of the set in a parody of Stomp.
    • Ms. Pennywise is a parody of Peachum from the The Threepenny Opera, and while Hope and, to a lesser extent, Bobby, are Parody Sues, they're mostly based on Grace Kelly and James Dean respectively.
    • Little Sally comes across as a parody of Gavroche from Les Mis as well, as they're both young kids who become important members of the rebellion and occasionally become narrators too.
    • The way the show portrays the town, the class distinctions, and the poor seems to be a parody of The Threepenny Opera. The show also seems to parody of Brecht's style of Epic Theater with Officer Lockstock's narration (For example, Lockstock revealing the secret of Urinetown early in the show is especially Brechtian).
  • Plot Armor: In the ending, Lockstock tells Sally that the rebels can't kill him because he's the narrator and that killing him would end the musical.
  • Police Brutality: The "Cop Song". "If peace is what you're after / Urinetown's the rafter / to hang it on". Cladwell invokes it in the Act One Finale as well, proclaiming that "A little brutality is exactly what these people need."
  • Reality Ensues: The ending is full of this. Simply overthrowing the UGC and letting people pee for free doesn't solve the drought - in fact, it makes it much, much worse. "Like I said, Little Sally - this isn't a happy musical."
  • Released to Elsewhere: Urinetown, for all the policemen's scare tactics, turns out to be a one-way trip off a building.
  • "The Cop Song" has Officers Lockstock and Barrel gloat about people they sent to Urinetown for defying the pay toilet law by either urinating behind trees or using jars or cups in addition to warning the audience not to do what they did.
  • "Don't Be the Bunny" by Caldwell B. Cladwell is essentially Kick the Dog: The Song.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • Cladwell may be this. Even with all his corruption and abuse of power, he's keeping the water the town uses at a steady level through his oppressive methods.
    • Officer Lockstock may also be this, as he says he loves the people in the community and just wishes to keep them in check.
    • And, ultimately, Hope - when she takes up Bobby's revolution it becomes a lot bloodier. She even has her own dad executed.
  • Zig-Zagging Trope: What is Urinetown? Is it the obvious answer or is there a darker secret waiting to be discovered? The show keeps deliberately toying with the audience's expectations until Bobby is taken there in Act 2 and it turns out it's the former - they really do just kill people and call it 'Urinetown', like Officer Lockstock told us back in Act 1.


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