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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:

  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: Big enough for a secret hideout and several dance numbers.
  • Affably Evil: Officer Lockstock enforces Cladwell's cruel laws which included quite a bit of murder. Despite this, he's a rather pleasant, downright charming guy.
  • All-Knowing Singing Narrator: Officer Lockstock's the narrator and he's quite proud of that title. There's also Little Sally who he's training for this position.
  • 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.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Bobby lives just long enough to relay his last words, in "Tell Her I Love Her".
  • 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".
  • Anti-Villain:
    • Caldwell B. Cladwell is a corrupt Jerkass who is all too happy to exploit the poor with his cruel laws. Still, he genuinely believes his actions are Necessarily Evil and in the end, he's proven right.
    • Officer Lockstock is Cladwell's number one enforcer who enjoys his job too much. At the same time, he does what he does out of a defensive love for his town, he feels a level of guilt over his actions, and he's a pretty nice guy all things considered.
  • 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?"
  • Background Music: Lampshaded at the end when Sally complains that the show should have a happy ending because the music is so happy.
  • 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.
  • Bathroom Control: The main plot point. A severe drought has led to private toilets being banned, and a monopolistic corporation controls every public toilet in town. Fee hikes have driven much of the world into poverty, and anyone caught urinating anywhere besides the public toilets will be sent to the titular penal colony, never to return.
  • 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.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The townsfolk presumably all die of dehydration as there's no water left.
  • Bound and Gagged: Hope at the start of Act 2.
  • 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.
  • City with No Name: The town it's set in isn't named. It's not called Urinetown until the end.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Not that everyone else is the perfect picture of sanity, but Hope can be downright odd at times.
  • 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.
  • Conversational Troping: Officer Lockstock and Little Sally exist solely for this purpose.
    Little Sally: She loves him, doesn't she, Officer Lockstock?
    Officer Lockstock: Of course she does, Little Sally, he's the hero of the show. She has to love him.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Caldwell B. Cladwell is a ruthless businessman who will bribe, lie, and kill to keep his business profitable.
  • Corrupt Politician: Fipp's in Cladwell's pocket and makes sure his unethical practices go unchallenged.
  • Daddy's Girl: Hope Cladwell loves her father until Bobby dying eventually turns her.
  • Dark Reprise: "Follow Your Heart" has one after Bobby away to the UGC. The final lyrics of the show are a dark(er) reprise of the opening number:
    This is Urinetown
    This place, it's called Urinetown
    Always has been Urinetown
    That was our show
  • Deadly Euphemism: Anyone sent to Urinetown is actually killed.
  • Death Song: "Tell Her I Love Her" for Bobby, and "We're Not Sorry (Reprise)" for Cladwell.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: A deconstruction of musical theatre tropes as well as storytelling tropes in general, playing with the idea of a happy ending.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Dare to pee anywhere else but a bathroom (that you need to pay to use, by the way), and the police will make sure that you get a trip to Urinetown.
  • Downer Ending: Played for dark comedy. After the rebels make it so that people can use the bathrooms free of charge, a severe drought occurs and everyone dies of dehydration.
  • Dystopia: People have to pay to go to the bathroom and are severely punished if they attempt to defy this rule.
  • Dystopian Edict: You have to pay in order to pee.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Cladwell loves his daughter Hope. Though he doesn't love her enough to stop the resistance from killing her. He also still has feelings for Penelope Pennywise.
    • Ms. Pennywise also cares deeply for Hope, her daughter. So much so that she's willing to pull a Heel–Face Turn to save her. She is at least somewhat "sorry" for how things turned out between her and Cladwell.
    • Officer Lockstock claims to love the town as a whole, with all his misdeeds being to save them. Shortly afterwards, Officer Barrel is revealed to love him. The feeling isn't mutual.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Officer Lockstock = bass. Although somewhat downplayed as he still needs a solid upper range, with an optional high A, and he's more morally questionable than evil.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Cladwell's methods of forcing people to pay high fees to urinate may seem unruly, but he had to do it in order to keep all the water from being wasted.
  • Fear Is the Appropriate Response: "Run, Freedom, Run!" is a whole musical number where Bobby encourages the resistance to scamper like rabbits when danger comes. In over-the-top Gospel style, of course.
  • Final Love Duet: "We're Not Sorry (Reprise)" is a villainous example.
  • Follow Your Heart: There's an entire song named after it.
  • Fourth Wall Greeting: "Well, hello there, and welcome to Urinetown.note "
  • Fourth-Wall Observer: Officer Lockstock and Little Sally know they're in a musical. Lockstock even refers to a plot twist that the audience will learn in the second act.
  • 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.
    • Lampshaded by Lockstock, who tells Little Sally that information about Urinetown "must ooze out until it breaks forth in one mighty cathartic moment," somewhat dampened by the fact that he just blurted out that there is no Urinetown; they just kill people.
    • Bobby is warned numerous times in Act 1 by Ms Pennywise and Officer Lockstock to "get [his] head out of the clouds" and is told by Hope during Follow Your Heart to follow his heart "to the clouds" if it tells him to go there. He ends up following Hope's advice and it leads to him being taken to the top of the tallest building in town (i.e. among the clouds) and thrown off to his death.
    • Becky Two-Shoes tells Little Sally that the rebels are just as bad as the UGC cohort and "in fact, [they're] worse". The rebels ultimately end up going on a murderous rampage and squandering the remaining water.
  • Friendly Enemy: Officer Lockstock is Cladwell's top enforcer, while Little Sally eventually joins the rebellion. The two maintain their friendship throughout the play, even as he captures her and she escapes.
  • Gospel Revival Number: "Run, Freedom, Run", complete with a choir section and everyone shouting hallelujah.
  • 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.
  • Greek Chorus: Officer Lockstock and Little Sally are something of a two-member version.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Ms. Pennywise betrays Cladwell and joins the revolution after he gives Hope up. This is because Hope is actually her daughter.
    • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Senator Fipp and Mrs. Millennium plan to leave Cladwell and go to Rio together, but the rebels murder them before they have a chance to.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Barrel to Lockstock.
    Officer Lockstock: I love the people of this community, Mr. Barrel. Very much. Cladwell's edicts may be their only chance.
    Officer Barrell: And I love you. Very much.
    Officer Lockstock: I see. (Walks off)
    Officer Barrell: "Well that went well".
  • The Hero: Bobby Strong is the character who tries to set things right.
  • The Hero Dies: Bobby Strong dies.
  • Idiot Hero: Hope isn't exactly bright. Bobby has strong flavors of this as well.
  • The Ingenue: Hope Cladwell's a parody of this trope, being cartoonishly sweet before going off the deep end.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: “A new age…of HOPE!”
  • 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.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title
    Little Sally: I don't think too many people are going to come see this musical, Officer Lockstock.
    Officer Lockstock: Why do you say that, Little Sally? Don't you think people like being told that their way of life is unsustainable?
    Little Sally: That, and the title's awful.
  • Interactive Narrator: Officer Lockstock is both Cladwell's top enforcer and omniscient third-person narrator.
  • 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: A few.
    • In "It's a Privilege to Pee", Ms. Pennywise sings about her job making sure people use the pay toilet.
    • In "Mr. Cladwell", Cladwell and his employees sing about how UGC operates, supposedly using urinal fees to fund research into ending the shortage
    • 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 Bunny: Cladwell gives three examples of inflicting misery and death on others for the sake of it, using an innocent rabbit as a metaphor.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Officer Lockstock and Little Sally exist solely for the purpose of pointing out the oddities of musical theatre and other storytelling tropes.
  • La Résistance: The Poor, as rallied together by Bobby.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: It's unclear if Lockstock and Barrel are privately hired mercenaries working for Cladwell, or if the public police department is just so corrupt that they take orders directly from him.
  • Leitmotif: The music that plays when Cladwell and Penny meet again and when they discuss their pasts.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Little Sally has shades of this in her interactions with Lockstock, frequently snarking over the play's eccentricities.
  • Love at First Sight / Love at First Note: Bobby and Hope are immediately attracted to one another when she passes him on the way to work, but it's not until they sing "Follow Your Heart" that they're in love.
  • Loved by All: After Officer Lockstock points out that, since Bobby Strong is the The Hero, his Love Interest Hope has to love him, Little Sally adds that everybody loves Bobby Strong. This increases, at least on the poor's side, when he becomes the leader of the rebellion, making his Act 2 death particularly tragic.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Hilariously parodied.
    Penny Pennywise: Hope is my daughter! crowd gasps And I am her mother! bigger gasp from the crowd
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: Both "Act I Finale" and "What is Urinetown" feature verses from each of the main characters.
  • Meaningful Name / Punny Name:
    • Bobby Strong, the virile leading man
    • Caldwell B. Cladwell, a rich man who, in comparison to the poor he exploits, is dressed, or "clad" well
    • Hope, whose optimism ignites a spark in the revolution.
    • Penny Pennywise, who is pragmatic and good with keeping track of money
    • Officers Lockstock and Barrel, police officers named after the parts of a gun
    • Urine Good Company, a play on "you're in good company"
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: "I See a River" is full of meaningless platitudes as the citizens face the fact that they have used up their water supply.
  • Medium Awareness: Officer Lockstock and Little Sally are both aware that they're in a musical and discuss several of the genre conventions.
  • Mega-Corp: The Urine Good Company has a monopoly on toilets, and is in control of both the local police force as well as the Senate.
  • 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.
  • Missing Mom: Hope's mother is conspicuously not mentioned for most of the show. Later, she's revealed to be Ms. Pennywise.
  • Money Song: "Mr. Cladwell", a song about how Urine Good Company extracts money from the poor to enrich their company.
    We say hail to you, the duke of the ducats
    I can bring in bucks by the buckets
    You're the master, you're making money
    Faster, still, than bees making honey
  • 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.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: "We're Not Sorry" stops just before what should the number's final note as the Resistance prepare to finally kill Cladwell.
    UGC Employees: We're not sorry
    Rebels: They're not sorry
    Billy Boy Bill: I'm not sorry!
    Entire Cast:
    No one's
    Til' they get to
    Cladwell: Any word from Lockstock and Barrel yet, Mr. McQueen?
  • Mutually Assured Destruction: Bobby and the poor think they have this going on with Cladwell by kidnapping his daughter, saying that if anything happens to Bobby, they'll kill Hope. Cladwell's Moral Event Horizon is deciding he'd rather kill Bobby and let his daughter die, but Hope manages to talk everyone into not killing her.
  • 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!
  • Necessarily Evil: Cladwell, and, by extension, the entire UGC. Sure, forcing everyone to pay to use toilets seems oppressive, but the water supply quickly runs out once everyone starts using them for free.
  • 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.
  • Oddly Small Organization: It's acknowledged in universe that the town only has two police officers but parodied as the resistance sees this as a major threat.
  • 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.
  • Plot Hole: The Twist Ending shows UGC's draconian policies were necessary to keep people from dying of dehydration. This blatantly contradicts how the company was anything but conservationist—they clearly wanted people to use the toilets more to charge them for it, and even punished people for peeing in ways that would use less water.
  • 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."
  • Released to Elsewhere: Urinetown, for all the policemen's scare tactics, turns out to be a one-way trip off a building.
  • Research, Inc.: Urine Good Company claims to be using the fees collected at urinals to fund research into permanent conservation methods, but these projects are heavily implied to be nothing more than hoaxes to benefit UGC's public image.
  • The Reveal: Parodied. Officer Lockstock flat-out explains to Little Sally that there would be no dramatic tension if they just shouted "There is no Urinetown! We just kill people!", so the audience won't learn that until later (even though they just did.)
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: "But we can't kill [the hostage]! That makes us just as bad as [the UGC]!" "Haven't you heard, Little Sally? We are just as bad as them! In fact, we're worse!"
  • Room 101: Urinetown, which is just being thrown off a building, but no one knows that.
  • Rule of Funny: The brutal rationing of flush toilet use keeping society from dying of water deprivation is complete nonsense when taken literally—realistically, only a small percentage of water is used for personal waste, and that amount can be significantly decreased by just using different types of toilet. The actual point, though is to satirize broad societal use of resources by making it purely a topic of Toilet Humor.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Fipp repeatedly talks about running off to Rio, but Cladwell keeps convincing him to stay around. He eventually tries to run off during "We're Not Sorry", only to be killed by the rebel poor.
  • Self-Deprecation: Constantly.
    Little Sally: I don't think too many people are going to like this musical, Officer Lockstock.
    Officer Lockstock: Why do you say that, Little Sally? Don't you think people want to be told their way of life is unsustainable?
    Little Sally: That, and the title's awful.
  • Seize Them!: Seize him/her/them gets shouted a few times.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: So, so, so heavy on the Cynicism.
  • The Something Song: "Cop Song" yet again.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Lampshaded
    Little Sally: But the music's so happy!
    Officer Lockstock: Yes, Little Sally. Yes, it is.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Bobby is the heroic everyman leading the revolution against the Corrupt Corporate Executive. Hope is said Executive's daughter. You can do the math.
  • The Un-Twist: Done on purpose. Halfway through the first act, Lockstock casually mentions offhand that the show's primary plot twist is exactly what every audience member with the slightest familiarity with dystopian fiction is guessing it is ([[spoiler:that "Urinetown" is a euphemism for throwing people off buildings), but adds that the audience won't learn that until act II (even though they just did.)
  • Title Drop: The title is also the name of a place that is referred to often.
  • Villain Has a Point: Mr. Cladwell makes everyone pay to use the toilet. If he didn't, the town would run out of water.
  • Villain Song:
    • "Mr. Cladwell", in which Cladwell brags about how hi company extracts money from the working poor.
    • "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.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell are both parodies of this, who dream of a better world with no pragmatic solution on how to make it happen.
  • 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 and the latter- they really do just kill people and call it 'Urinetown', like Officer Lockstock told us back in Act 1.