Urinetown Confidential: The Untold Story
The Idea Hits Me in Paris
By by Greg Kotis
The idea for Urinetown first came to me during what might generously be described as a poorly planned trip to Europe during the late winter and early spring of 1995. At the time, I was performing with the Neo-Futurists, a Chicago-based experimental theatre company that was taking part in a theatre festival in a small Transylvania (believe it or not) town called Sibiu. On our return flight, I decided to extend an overnight layover in Paris and spend two weeks bumming around Western Europe by myself, to see the sights and also to try and decide whether I would propose to my girlfriend and fellow Neo-Futurist Ayun Halliday. For some reason I thought $300 would do the trick, and, as you might expect, I ran out of money almost immediately. What I had intended to be a meditative, economy-style backpack excursion through the capitals of France, Germany, England and Spain quickly developed into a grim test of endurance where the defining questions changed from "Am I getting enough culture?" and "How do I really feel about Ayun?" to simply "How can I not spend any money until I can reclaim my ticket to the States and go home?"
For me, the answer involved sleeping in train stations, eating cheap but belly-filling foods and, strangely enough, avoiding going to the bathroom as much as possible. Public bathrooms in Europe are pay-per-use. Some are old buildings in parks complete with towel-distributing attendants; some are state-of-the-art, self-cleaning toilet-pods set proudly near city crossroads. Each involves a fee of some kind, some more expensive than others, all at the time prohibitive to me. I have never been able to just pee in the bushes (or between parked cars, as is often done in New York), nor do I do well under the hostile gaze of restauranteurs who know a bathroom freeloader when they see one. For me, the pay-per-use amenities were it.
And so it was that on one particularly cold and rainy afternoon in Paris, while I was making my way past the Luxembourg Gardens, trying to determine how badly I needed to go to the bathroom and whether I should splurge and use one of the toilet-pods I could see looming in the distance (or wait until just before dinner when I could combine two trips into one), that the notion of a city where all public amenities in town were controlled by a single malevolent, monopolizing corporation came to me. And not only would the corporation control all the public bathrooms but, being malevolent and monopolizing, it would somehow ensure the prohibition of private toilets, thus guaranteeing a steady flow of customers to its overpriced comfort stations. With its wealth and influence on the rise, it would pay off politicians and the police, outlaw going in bushes (and between parked cars), and generally employ all available tools of persuasion to maintain its hammerlock on power. At its head would be an evil capitalist genius controlling the world from behind his corporate desk. But would he really be so evil? For the world he was controlling was suffering from a nearly uncontrollable ecological disaster-a drought that, at the beginning of our story, had already entered its 20th year.
I stood there on the sidewalk for a moment or two, thinking the thing through. The notion seemed like a patently awful one, grand and ridiculous, a career- (such as it was) ending embarrassment. And yet, at its core, it would also be a grand, ridiculous reflection of the world as we know it to be, complete with rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, a government controlled by industry and an industry that exists apart from and above us all. And driving it all would be a musical-yes, a very big musical, and it would be called Urinetown. It might not be performed, perhaps should not be performed, but it would be called Urinetown, and it would take place in a town where everybody had to pay to pee. Such is the thinking that comes from being too homesick, too broke and too full of belly-filling foods, while inhibiting the natural bodily functions for too long.
Mark Takes the Bait
Upon returning to the United States and moving to New York City (with Ayun, then my fiancée) to continue performing with the Neo-Futurists, I approached Mark Hollmann, a longtime friend and past collaborator, and pitched the idea to him. Strangely, he was interested. Mark and I had worked intensively years before with the Cardiff Giant Theater Company, creating new plays with other company members through a process of ensemble improvisation. Since then, Mark had moved to New York to pursue a career as a composer while I stayed in Chicago to continue working with the Neo-Futurists, among other companies. Initially, I presented Mark with a narrative skeleton and a few scenes. Mark took the material away and came back a few weeks later with "It's a Privilege to Pee," Penelope Pennywise's Act 1 wail about the cold, hard facts of life during the drought. It was angry, pained, an unapologetic march in the tradition of Brecht-Weill. There was Ms. Pennywise laying down the law to the downtrodden, screaming the truth as she knew it, an absurdist Brechtian anti-heroine. The show came alive in Mark's new song; the colors were clear, the tone pitch-perfect.
Over the next three years we met after services at a church where Mark played organ, sometimes infrequently, sometimes intensively, trading notes and sharing the progress we had made in the intervening weeks. The process was slow, unpredictable, a task of exploring the metaphor to its utmost, trying to bring the world of the play into view. At first it was difficult to believe we were putting so much energy into a show called Urinetown; it was a freak-show of a musical, a Frankenstein's Monster best kept in the basement. We wrote it as if we didn't expect anyone but maybe a few friends to see it, because at first we really didn't expect anyone but maybe a few friends to see it. We ballooned the cast size out to 36, a comfortably unworkable crowd of actors no producer would ever agree to (if ever one were to agree to our premise in the first place). We devised a ghastly ending wherein Cladwell's potbelly (he was originally described as a portly man) was revealed to be an obscenely distended bladder strapped to his body with belts, an unforgivably vulgar costume requirement we felt confident no one could build. We hobbled our monster, sabotaging it with unproducible choices that would keep the work safely off the stage and in our respective desk drawers, where it belonged.
And yet, at the same time, the madness of the thing felt strangely joyful and free. Since it was unproducible, we allowed ourselves complete liberty in imagining the play, making choices that were not just bad for the sake of being bad but reckless for the sake of seeing where a story goes when it goes where it probably shouldn't. What happens if the hero dies, not heroically, but desperately, and alone with his enemies? What happens if the heroine is allowed her anger, then allowed to act upon her impulse to incite a mob to murder her father? And what happens if the play offers no clear prescription for the troubles it imagines, no "Love is the answer" or "Be true to yourself and all will be well"? And here we found the real heart of the play, the sense of fear that had hovered over all our efforts. What had been a vague, uncertain point of view came into sharper relief for us as the play grew bloodier and the stakes of the story rose.
I have never been an environmentalist in any productive sense, nor can I claim to be a social activist, nor would I describe myself as a particularly good citizen. But at the same time, I (like most Americans, I suspect) have this creeping sense of dread that we're in the process of doing ourselves in, slowly but steadily, and there's nothing we can do about it. We burn too much oil, build too many roads and too many houses, create too much garbage, and as human beings interested in pleasure, convenience, personal freedom and individual progress, we're simply incapable of making the changes necessary to save ourselves. The evidence seems to be everywhere, in the oddness of recent climate swings, in estimates of future population growth and in the choice of leaders we select to articulate our national response to these facts. These problems seem so huge, so complete, so fundamental as to be unsolvable, and that was the issue Mark and I ultimately hoped to consider with this play. Yes, Urinetown would be absurd, allegorical, ridiculous, unproducible. But, at the same time, it would present a world long past the point where good intentions could do any good, a future we both fear and anticipate in this world, silently for the most part. And perhaps a musical that had deliberately shed the traditional credentials of a happy ending, or even a decent title, might be exactly the right play to present the thought we had in mind. We shrunk the cast back down to 16, then 15. We discovered the true ending of the play, one that kept our villain a human being. And (unproducible choices aside) we stayed true to the formal rules of musical theatre writing as best we could, wondering whether they might apply even to Urinetown.
Enter the Fringe Festival
Mark and I spent 1998 dutifully sending out first-draft scripts and demo tapes to theatres, agents and producers around the country, who would then dutifully send form letters back to us in response. Our roots were in the do-it-yourself theatre world, but our hope was to find an ally in more established circles who could help us put our monster on its feet. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as it turned out), our unproducible choices proved entirely convincing, and by April 1999 we had exhausted all traditional avenues of production and/or development, save for an impoverished, upstart theatre festival that took place each August in Manhattan called the New York International Fringe Festival.
The Fringe, to be sure, was a last resort for us. As Mark and I well knew, the Fringe was not so much a festival as a barely controlled riot where as many as 150 theatre productions from across the country and around the world descended on the streets of the Lower East Side for 10 days in August, each working ferociously to press-gang as many audience members as they could find in to see their show. What we had in mind was a musical, a real musical, the most intricate piece of theatrical machinery, and to trust it to the certain anarchy of the Fringe Festival seemed like folly. But by April 1999 it was the Fringe Festival or nothing, and while we toyed with nothing, we settled on the Fringe. Lucky for us.
Fired anew by the threat of impending production, Mark and I worked through the spring, meeting evenings and weekends in the church where Mark played organ to polish the script into rehearsal readiness. We assembled an intrepid cast of young performers, each stuck in New York for the summer for various reasons, but each game enough to give our show a shot. We rehearsed whenever we could (also in Mark's church), our director tripling as choreographer and musical director, our assistant director quadrupling as prop master, stage manager and all-round chief of staff. Mark and I polished the script still further, and day by day the show was whipped, cajoled and coddled into shape. Our last night in the church, we performed a run-through for a few of our friends. They were polite and encouraging, some congratulatory, some quietly but quite obviously concerned for our future. That performance constituted our invited dress rehearsal and entire preview process rolled into one. We were exhausted and terrified, but it began to seem like we had something approximating a show.
Fringe Festival rules allowed each production one eight-hour period to tech its show in its assigned theatre. In both our theatre assignment and our tech time we got two extremely lucky breaks. Our theatre, a converted garage on the corner of Stanton and Ridge Streets, was immediately next door to where festival tickets were sold, and noon to eight (our tech time) proved to be an extremely busy shift. As we rehearsed, ticket sellers, attracted by the sounds being made next door, would drift in to see who was singing, and why. And as ticket buyers began showing up and asking the sellers for guidance, word spread that the festival was hosting a musical this year, a real musical with singing and everything. Advance sales picked up.
The theatre was very hot for our first performance, as it would be for all performances. The roof of the garage was one vast, tar-covered expanse that absorbed and exaggerated all the heat of the August sun. Fans were brought in and spread throughout the house, hung from the ceilings, all humming loudly, moving the hot air around. A garage door on the side of the theatre was kept open to let in fresh air, which also let in chatter from the ticket booths. It was a dirty, dangerous, uncomfortable place to see a show, let alone perform one, and all in all the perfect place to present Urinetown. Audience members streamed in, stepping over extension cords and onto shaky risers to find their seats. I hovered in the catwalks above the back of the house, chewing my cuticles, trying to read the audience. Then Mark, our entire orchestra, began to play his overture on a single upright piano placed just house left of the stage. The crowd grew quiet, curious. The lights went down, the cast took their positions and Jay Rhoderick, our Officer Lockstock for the Fringe production, entered from the house and began talking to the audience.
As quiet as the audience was, they grew quieter still; an actor dressed as a policeman was addressing them from the stage. There are many kinds of silence in theatre, some good, some not so good. This was a good silence, an alert silence-they were paying attention. As Jay spoke, a dirge-like, mournful hymn filled the garage, complete with part-singing and full-chorus chords. This, apparently, was not what the audience had expected to hear, not at the Fringe Festival, and certainly not from a show called Urinetown. They listened harder. Then they started to laugh. Lines were dropped throughout that first performance, cues were missed, props were fumbled, the heat in the theatre actually rose, pushed up by all the lighting instruments working at once, but we were getting laughs. The crowd, our first crowd, was with us. When the lights popped off the end of the first-act finale, the audience leaped to their feet; they cheered. Mark sat in a pool of sweat by his piano, unsure of how we had done, still peering at his sheet music, reliving his errors. The cast mingled backstage, their costumes sopping wet with perspiration, exhausted but happy to be through the first half. And this is how we began.
Urinetown was performed eight times as part of the Fringe, and four more times at the same theatre the weekend after the festival closed. We oversold nearly every performance, garnered the kind of critical response you inevitably daydream about working in theatre, and had a good time in the process. Even then we were being asked, "Did you ever think the show would get this far?"
Dealing with the Devil
Of all the industry people who wandered through our show, it was only the Araca Group, partnered by Mike Rego, Matthew Rego and Hank Unger, who understood how far Urinetown might one day go, and how it could get there. Mike, Matthew and Hank were upstarts, buccaneering producers eager for a horse to bet on, and fully willing to risk other people's money (as well as their own) on a long shot like Urinetown. When I first met Mike, he struck me as the enemy incarnate (albeit a very young one), acutely interested in money, ambitious, strangely good-looking and not ashamed to interrupt our conversation to answer his cell phone. At our initial meeting on the night that he first saw the show, Mike mostly asked questions, keeping his cards close to his chest, his enthusiasm muted. Who had we talked to? What were our plans? How committed were we to the material? The director? The cast? He liked the show. He was busy. He'd let us know. It was one of several meetings we "took" (as we learned to say) during and immediately after the Fringe, vaguely promising, but also vaguely dispiriting.
Our first choice was to remount the show as it was, a raw and rebellious production that might run in some other garage for a while, perhaps a nicer one. But the more we talked to prospective patrons, the more unlikely that particular prospect seemed to be. Space was scarce, money was scarce and real musicals were impossible enough to produce, let alone the deliberately impossible one we hoped to remount. Months passed, and by the time the Araca Group called us in for a second meeting, Mark and I had already exhausted the various VIPs we had courted since the Fringe production had closed, each well-intentioned but ultimately in no position to advance our cause.
The proposal the Araca Group made to us was this: Bring in a new director, someone known and respected; open casting to a wider pool of talent, including seasoned veterans; and see what happens when the material is put in front of the powers that be. As a young and relatively green producing outfit, Araca was in a position to mount the show as a staged reading, but not much more. The purpose of the reading would be to test the material away from the Fringe environment and to solicit the interest and assistance of more experienced producing partners with greater resources and know-how. The show is an odd duck, they argued, but treat it like a Broadway musical and it might just have legs.
This, of course, was the hardest part of our journey with the show. We felt loyal and indebted to our Fringe group, and never before (in our time writing plays) had we been asked to consider recasting anything. Shows were done with friends for the love of it as much as anything else; changing the roster defeated the purpose of the thing. But Araca's argument was strong: Let the backers see this material with actors they trusted and its potential (or lack thereof) would be apparent. We lobbied for our cast, demanding they all get a shot in front of the new director, hoping for the best. In the end, our choice was to trust the play to the Araca Group or walk away for good. We considered walking away, but in the end we chose to trust them.
Rando & Company
Unbeknownst to us, the Araca Group knew only one director of note-John Rando-and with him we received perhaps the luckiest break of all. In our first meeting with John he spoke seriously, gravely even, about the substance of the play, its historical antecedents, its larger context. He spoke to no one in particular, to a spot hovering about three inches above the center of the conference table we had spread ourselves around. But as he spoke he would just crack up from time to time, sort of shake off the grimness for a second with an image of ridiculousness he hoped to see in the show, then continue on, grim again. Here was a man for the job, serious and loopy at the same time. John was then joined by the musical director Edward Strauss, grim and loopy in his own way, but exacting in precisely the way a musical director needed to be with our material.
Over the next few months we collected a cast and set about mounting what's known as a "20-hour reading." Two Fringe cast members were invited on, including Spencer Kayden, who would continue with the production to Broadway, a happy vote of confidence to the old crew, a crucial aesthetic clue to the new one. What's special about a "20-hour reading" is that the actors don't have to be paid that much (good for the producers, bad for the actors), but only 20 hours of their time can be used from the first moment of rehearsal to the final moment of the reading (good for the actors, bad for the producers-and the writers, I suppose). A stopwatch was present continuously, actors were stopped and released mid-sentence to keep the schedule on schedule; a near-panicky feverishness hovered over most of the proceedings. But as constrained as the process was, this was Mark's and my first real taste of the big time. Here we were, two unknowns from the do-it-yourself world of way-downtown theatre, and each day we arrived at a rehearsal to watch these seasoned actors, directors and producers apply their abilities to our play. We got to offer opinions, participate in decisions; people treated us nice. And all the while, the play was coming closer and closer into view. Here was Nancy Opel belting out Penelope Pennywise's "It's a Privilege to Pee" with mad rage and remorse above and beyond our wildest hopes. There was Jennifer Laura Thompson as Hope Cladwell, more captivating and more beautiful than the Grace Kelly her character was first modeled on, and Daniel Marcus, giddily bloodthirsty as Lockstock's sidekick, Officer Barrel. And, finally, there was Spencer as Little Sally, a friend and fellow collaborator from Neo-Futurist days, a fringe stowaway like ourselves, holding her own with the pros.
The Big Time Arrives
The reading was presented twice in January 2000 at New Dramatists on 44th Street, the first during a traffic-stopping blizzard, the second two days later amid the frozen detritus left by the storm. People came slogging through the snow, important people, industry people, including Michael David and Lauren Mitchell of Dodger Theatricals. Although I didn't know it at the time, Dodger was and is one of the biggest players on Broadway. Their track record extends back decades, including Gospel at Colonus, Wrong Mountain and most of the big-time Broadway revivals of recent years. At first glance, Michael seemed to have something of the mad Russian holy man about him, a benevolent version of Rasputin, friendly enough, but with all the spark that a pre-revolutionary figure suggests. And Lauren was (and is) strikingly tall and elegant, every bit the Broadway performer she began her career as. In addition to Michael and Lauren, each performance was attended by the powerful allies the Araca Group had spoken of, representatives from many of the major producing organizations and performing arts institutions in the city, precisely the people Mark and I had solicited two years before.
I was sitting in my car in a small town on Long Island, days after the reading, scouting houses for the TV show Law & Order (my day job), when Mike Rego called to tell me the Dodgers wanted in. This was that particular piece of good fortune that made everything that followed possible. Michael and Lauren were the "powers that be," so to speak, precisely the kind of creative producers a show like Urinetown needed. Mark and I, as well as Mike, Matthew and Hank, were called into a meeting at Dodger Theatricals, a high-floor office in an old-time New York building overlooking Times Square. Posters of familiar theatrical triumphs covered the walls, the office hummed (as they say) with important activity, all in all a convincing epicenter of Broadway power and accomplishment. We collected in a small conference room with clear views of New Jersey, were offered water while we waited, coffee; then Lauren and Michael joined us, for them another stop on a busy day. They sat down, introduced themselves, and then began discussing the play as if they really meant to produce it. They liked the material. They liked the title! What was our vision for the show? The play was an Off-Broadway play, but could we imagine it on Broadway? It's difficult to understate the miracle of their enthusiasm. In a Broadway landscape that had become increasingly risk-averse and corporatized, here were two players with solid reputations offering to roll the dice and see what fate awaited those who chose to produce the unproducible play.
Months were committed to finding the right performance space, which turned out to be a poor but tenacious theatre operating above an active courtroom and police precinct on 54th Street. Weeks were spent assembling a creative team, then auditioning new cast members, including David Beach, Rachael Coloff, Rick Crom, John Cullum, John Deyle, Hunter Foster, Victor Hawks, Ken Jennings, Jeff McCarthy, Lawrence Street, Kay Walbye and (eventually) Jennifer Cody. Weeks of rehearsal followed, a thrilling process for me. There was John Cullum, cunning and smooth, creating the villain Cladwell before our very eyes. There was Hunter Foster creating Bobby Strong, Cladwell's nemesis, giving the hero more honesty and gritty charisma than the James Dean-style character we had originally envisioned. And there was Jeff McCarthy, the keystone of all our efforts, anchoring the show as Officer Lockstock, a murderously tough cop on the take with a soft spot for a little girl who would join him in explaining the show to the audience. And he had to sing, too. Amid it all, an ensemble came into being, the creators of Tiny Tom, Hot Blades Harry, Senator Fipp, Mr. McQueen, Josephine Strong, Billy Boy Bill, Robby the Stockfish, Soupy Sue and Little Becky Two-Shoes, a group that had to work harder, dance harder and perform harder than seemed possible. Rewrites were requested and, after some hair pulling, delivered. Characters were discovered, gags were discovered, the show was choreographed (by the formidable John Carrafa), orchestrated (by the unrivaled Bruce Coughlin) and altogether "Broadway-fied," as a friend termed it.
A few days before tech rehearsals began, we were invited to see the set design Scott Pask had installed in the theatre, a stunning experience for two writers previously accustomed to dump-picked couches constituting the centerpieces of designs. More stunning still was to see Jonathan Bixby and Gregory Gale's costumes, worn on stage by our cast and lit by Brian MacDevitt's wonderful plot. Advertisements appeared. Articles appeared. Word spread that Urinetown had found its way to a commercial production. How was it possible? And yet it was happening. Previews began Sunday, April 1, a presumed April Fool's joke for some. And then, finally, implausibly, Urinetown opened Off-Broadway, Sunday, May 6, 2001, roughly 19 months after closing at the Fringe.
At the opening-night party at a bar near the theatre, Hank Unger arrived with the New York Times review. In the olden days people would wait for the papers to land in bundles on the sidewalk to learn what critical fate had befallen their show. Nowadays reviews are posted first on the Internet, so that's what Hank had-a printout from the Times's website. A few of us collected on the sidewalk outside the bar. Jeff McCarthy, our barrel-chested, silver-maned Officer Lockstock, read it aloud. In the world of New York theatre every accolade is precious, but the Times, as tradition goes, gives life or takes it away. In our case, we had been given life-a lot of life.
Urinetown sold out its run, then extended performances to the end of June. The production was blessed with more accolades, including 11 Drama Desk nominations, two Obie awards and berth in that season's "Best Plays" anthology. Shortly before the end of our Off-Broadway run, Mike Rego assembled the cast before a show to share with them (and with us) the outcome of the producers' private schemings. We were going to Broadway, all of us. They didn't know where, exactly, but it was happening, so get ready. There was no cheer during his announcement, no exhalation that follows the crossing of a finish line. The cast asked questions, quietly, cautiously. People tugged on their costumes, exchanging quick, happy grins. Their lives were changing. Our lives were changing. We had all bet on the right horse.
Broadway, Dark and Light
The Henry Miller, our Broadway destination, had been dark and derelict as a legitimate Broadway theatre until only a few years before Urinetown transferred there. Ultimately resuscitated by a revival of Cabaret, the Henry Miller had been a nightclub, a porn house and an otherwise uncelebrated venue for sex farces and revues since the 1960s. (Previous to that, the Henry Miller had been a legitimate stage, including among its productions Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution, T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party and Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town, but that heyday was long gone by the time we arrived.) During our first walk-through of the space, we found the Henry Miller to be a dusty, crumbling antique, complete with holes in the ceiling and leopard-skin carpeting left over from its seedier days. But like the Stanton Street garage, and the floor above the court/precinct, the Henry Miller was the perfect place for Urinetown. Broadway previews began Monday, Aug. 27, adjustments being made all the while as we approached our Sept. 13 opening. Monday, Sept. 10, as well as Tuesday, Sept. 11, were press nights, those specific performances critics attend in advance of the show's actual premiere. Monday's performance was strong, an evening witnessed by reviewers from the New York Observer, the Newark Star-Ledger and USA Today, among others. Tuesday, Sept. 11, was to be even more crucial, including theatre writers from Newsday, the Associated Press, Variety and the New York Times. That performance, of course, never took place.
The planes struck in the morning, and I, like many New Yorkers, spent the day alternatively hovering by the radio, looking out my window toward downtown Manhattan and venturing into the streets of my neighborhood to try to understand what had become of our city. Broadway performances were cancelled for that evening, as they would be for the next, and as far we knew, we wouldn't be opening for some time. It was difficult to imagine how we could possibly present our absurdist comedy in the midst of so much tragedy, confusion and fear. But at the behest of the mayor, we did reopen, along with the rest of Broadway, inviting audiences to come back the Thursday after the attacks. Times Square was relatively empty that night, itself an anticipated target, as it still is. Our audience was small, anxious, but eager, I think, to be in one another's company. Our director, John Rando, walked onstage and said simply that another word for life is creativity. Theatre, he said, could not save lives, nor could it put out fires, but it could offer creativity and life, which is what we hoped to offer that night. John thanked the audience and walked offstage. The lights dimmed, the overture played, the actors took their places, and the show began. Theatre is a poor relative in some ways to other forms of entertainment, to cinema or television. But that night, for those audience members, there could have been no greater way to spend an evening than sitting in a theatre witnessing fellow New Yorkers tell a story on a stage a few feet in front of them. Whatever fears that group of theatregoers had, for themselves or their city, the actors and the musicians and the crew had also. But those fears were shushed away for the evening by the choice to be together, in that place, at that time.
Urinetown formally opened Sept. 20, one week after our intended premiere. Again, the reviews were good. The critics reminded us that there truly was a serious core to all our silliness, after all, and furthermore, silliness can be anything but unwelcome during times as serious as those we were all experiencing. Audiences grew, but each week we stayed open seemed like something of a miracle. Broadway faltered, then found its footing, revived by the goodwill of the city, just as the city was revived by the goodwill of the country. During one week that autumn, a crowd of 200 Oregonians arrived in New York en masse, declaring they would do their part by spending as much money as they could, in part on theatre.
Urinetown's cast, musicians and crew labored week by week throughout that most difficult season, breathing life night after night into our musical with the terrible title. Houses were full, then slow, then full again. The show survived, prospered; and, as the months ticked off, we drew closer to awards season, even becoming a contender for some of the most coveted statuettes of all. On May 6, one year to the day after opening Off Broadway, 31 months after closing at the Fringe Festival, Urinetown was happy to receive 10 Tony nominations, including one for Spencer. Apparently this absurdist musical where people had to pay to pee truly could make it on Broadway.
Urinetown garnered three 2002 Tonys: for Greg Kotis (book), Mark Hollmann (score) and John Rando (direction). It kicks off a national tour at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, starting June 24, and will travel to more than 40 cities across the U.S. It continues its open-ended Broadway run to packed houses.
Copyright (c) 2002 by Greg Kotis. All rights reserved. Excerpted from the introduction to the book Urinetown: The Musical, to be published this month by Faber & Faber, an affiliate of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
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