Paul Kite, a guest director who takes the reins of Briarcliff’s excellent theater program from producer Ian Driver, said he chose “Urinetown” for a few reasons: “It’s a smart show, and it’s dark and I like dark things. And it’s an acting show.”
Set in a future world where water shortages have brought draconian measures — including public toilets where people have to pay to, well, pee — “Urinetown” simultaneously skewers and celebrates the musical-theater form, with songs like “Don’t Be the Bunny,” “Snuff That Girl,” “It’s a Privilege to Pee” and “Run, Freedom, Run.”
In Briarcliff, hero Bobby Strong (senior Joey Flihan) battles the powerful Caldwell B. Cladwell (senior Russell Francis), the head of the global UGC — Urine Good Company — the firm that runs the “public amenities” which all residents are required to use.
“Urinetown” represents a change at Briarcliff, which staged a serious and seriously powerful production of “The Hired Man” last year, an American first. Kite wanted to do something challenging and funny, something the kids would respond to.
Musical director Regina Leon took some convincing, Kite said.
“She was funny. She asked me ‘What’s it about? I hate the title!’ and I said ‘That’s the joke of the play!'” Kite recalled.
Flihan said the musical continues a Briarcliff tradition of choosing musicals that are out of the ordinary.
“We always have a show we’re sure he’s going to do,” Flihan said, referring to Driver. “This summer, we thought it would be ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.’ And then in September, he came out with ‘Urinetown.'”
“I like it because I get a chance to sing every kind of song,” Flihan said. “There’s a gospel song, a klezmer type song, all kinds of songs.”
“You get to be in every kind of musical you want to be,” agreed senior Katie Simons, who plays Hope Cladwell, the villain’s daughter and Bobby’s love interest.
“Urinetown” is aware its title is awful, its subject is questionable and its motives are dubious. It’s all told with a wink and a nod, Simons and Flihan said.
“There’s a running thing in the show where everybody in the show is slightly aware at all times they’re in a show,” Flihan said. “There’s that element of presentation from every member of the cast.”
Still, Simons said, the show has a lot of meaning.
“It’s a ridiculous show, but it has so many little hidden ideas.”
Brian Danuff, 16, a junior who plays Officer Lockstock, the piece’s narrator, agrees.
“It’s a stupid, silly show, but at the same time, it’s smart and complex,” Danuff said. “All of these ideas and beliefs are swirling around.”
Danuff said Lockstock “has his hand on every aspect of the show, constantly butting in with his thoughts and overview of what goes on.”
He is regularly trailed, pestered and questioned by the stuffed-animal-toting Little Sally (sophomore Melissa Goldberg), but does his best to keep things running, and set the musical’s subversive, quirky tone.
Russell Francis, 17, a senior, said playing the over-the-top villain, Caldwell B. Cladwell, is “playing the hammiest, unapologetically evil guy you can, and it is so much fun to do.”
Simons said Hope changes over the course of the musical.
“I like how two-sided she is,” Simons said. “At first, she’s kind of naive and stupid. She’s pretty stupid, even though she’s just come back from university. And at the end, she’s pretty deadly, so it’s fun to play two different characters at the same time.”
Flihan called the musical choice “a welcome change of pace.”
“Last year, ‘The Hired Man’ was excellent, one of the best things I’ve ever had the opportunity to do,” he said. “It was so cathartic and real. But now this year we get to be funny.”
He thought a second, then added with a laugh.
“We don’t get to be happy. We’ll never get to be happy. But we get to be funny. And thank God we get to be funny.”
“Urinetown,” 7.30 p.m., March 6, 7; 3 p.m. March 8. $15. 866-967-8167. showtix4u.com.
Here’s the Running Lines video I shot at Briarcliff. Enjoy!