BWW Interview: Christopher Wilson of URINETOWN Talks Humour, Politics, and What Makes Musical Concerts Unique
URINETOWN might best be described as a satirist's satire - a piece of musical theatre so jaded it takes aims first at itself, seering along the way mismanaged governments and the people who take advantage of them.
Broadwayworld spoke with producer Christopher Wilson about Toronto Musical Concert's upcoming production of URINETOWN, and why a show with a terrible name is still a great time.
URINETOWN is a satire of capitalism, corporate greed, apathy... Did you choose it because it is so relevant to the here and now?
I would argue that, when I originally programmed it, it ended up being somewhat of a fortuitous coincidence. I saw the show several years ago at CanStage - we're going back 15+ years - and when I saw the show I fell in love with the piece. What was interesting to me on the onset is that it really is such a tongue-in-cheek approach to making fun of itself. There's a dialogue at the beginning of the show where a character says "too much exposition kills a show as much as a bad title!" And obviously, it's very intriguing.
For those who aren't familiar with what URINETOWN is, it's a unique, potentially off putting title for a musical. But it highlights that; it makes fun of itself in the most clever and engaging manner.
So, relative to Greta Thunberg, and post- her address to the United Nations, it's been a very interesting political lens around what is happening around global awareness and climate change, and I thought that was kind of uniquely topical relative to the fact that this show talks about the greed of corporations and a society that's not particularly aware of the effects of their self-interest. And this seemed to be in line with what's going on both in our local community and internationally.
I notice that a lot of the discussion today is very serious - Greta Thunberg is a good example. But URINETOWN comes at things through comedy.
When I look at previous shows that we've explored - most recently was Parade, a true story of the death of Leo Frank, who was a persecuted Jew at the turn of the century in the UNited States - that's a very heavy subject matter. But sometimes with these hard-hitting conversations, when someone takes a theatrical idiom of humour to address serious issues, it can be potentially more impactful. It brings an accessibility to an audience member.
So rather than thumping someone over the head with a topic, the tongue-in-cheek approach causes someone to think on a different level, because instead of being accosted by a message, they're engaged in the humour. It's a subtle way of imparting an ideology without hammering them over the head with it.
Speaking of the audience experience - I know you aren't doing a full staging of the show, but a concert. Why a concert? How is different from a full-fledged musical production?
The focus of our work is professional staged reading. So the actors are performing the work on book, with the assistance of script on score. It's pragmatic - it allows for a more streamlined rehearsal process.
But it also, and I say this very respectfully, without all the bells and whistles of costume and props, it really allows us to put the emphasis on the storytelling. To really focus on the text and the music. Now, there are still prop elements that come in to play, minimal choreographic elements, and we use projections and a large screen to help denote time and place.
I would also argue that it forces the audience to engage in a bit more imagination. But also financially, for our company, the overhead allows us to continue to present these musicals but without more lavish production expenses, which then in turn allows us to potentially do more work.
Is there anything from the show you want to tease? Any particular scene or number or cast member that's just awesome?
I would definitely say in terms of public recognition, the young woman who's playing our Penny Pennywise, Erica Peck, who is not a stranger in Toronto, especially in the Mirvish context. She had her professional premiere doing We Will Rock You, and she's just such a unique character who has such an extraordinary instrument. Very early on in the piece, she sings a song called "It's a Privilege to Pee." It's kind of like the thesis statement of the piece. The vocal prowess that Erica brings is pretty off the charts.
We also have a wonderful young lady called Arinea Hermansis just such an exciting, newly emerging artist. And even though Erica is not that much older than Arinea, she has lots of experience. So the exciting thing about this company is that we can have seasoned professionals working with emerging artists so that we can bridge the gap generationally.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
TORONTO MUSICAL CONCERT's URINETOWN runs October 25-26 at the Al Green THEATRE, 750 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit torontomusicalconcerts.com.