The University of Minnesota Duluth
Department of Theatre
Urinetown the Musical

Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollman
Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotis

Directed by William Payne
Scenic Design by Lauren Meister
Costume Design by Ashley Woods
Lighting Design by Mark Harvey

October 18-27, 2007

Lighting Design Approach

Urinetown was a delightful musical to work on because the script can be interpreted so many different ways. UMD Theatre's production began by looking at how this musical falls outside the typical musical genre. Because the play lifts up the social issue of sustainable living, I began my research by looking at other historical times when resources were scarce in our country. While set in the immediate future, the play inspired me to look at periods when our country was faced with a huge gap between have's and have-not's. Searches on line led me to Depression era photos such as these:

Depression Era Photo Depression Era Photo

My initial thought for the show was to limit the color palette, inspired perhaps, by these black and white photos and our initial discussions of the Brechtian nature of the show. I had to adjust my thinking, however, when the costume designer, Ashley Woods, suggested the Rebel Poor be rendered in warm, rusty colors and, in contrast, the Urine Good Company employees in cooler tones. The scenic design, while modular in nature, reinforced this idea with basic units in neutral tones that could be adapted to a variety of locations for the play. Three distinct locations I wanted to help create with lighting included the "poorest, filthiest urinal in town", home to the Rebel Poor, which was also a place where I could provide early morning warmth in the lighting. It seemed appropriate to have warm tones support the audience's empathy for the downtrodden of the show.

Urinetown "It's a Prvilege to Pee" Photo
"It's a Privilege to Pee"

The corporate office look was supported with strong side light with a hint of fluorescent green. The scenery was quite symmetrical, and with the suggestion of the Assistant Lighting Designer Matt Weyer, we decided to use the same colors from either side of the stage, and even went so far as to gang the side light for each lighting area together in order to keep a symmetrical look throughout the show.

Urintetown UGC Office Photo
Urine Good Company Corporate Office

The third location, the Hide Out, was created, in part, with a random beam gobo pattern splashed across the acting area.

Urinetown Hide Out Photo
Urinetown Hide Out

As I examined the costumes under various gel colors, I realized I had the opportunity to include a touch of green in almost every color used on stage. It was an unusual choice for a musical, but if ever there was an opportunity to forgo pink and lavender, this was the show!

For the Old Man Strong's ghost specials, I used primary green top light, Rx395; and a much grayer green, Rx93, in the Hide Out gobos. The dark blue top light used in the romantic night scenes was shifted to a more greenish blue color - Rx371, and the fluorescent green side light in the UGC office, Rx72, provided an cold artificial feel to the space.

Urinetown "Follow Your Heart" Photo
"Follow Your Heart"

One of the difficult choices that has to be made with this show is when to visually support the Brechtian qualities of the show, and when to make it feel more like a musical. I was intrigued by the opening song "Urinetown" and the transition of "I See a River" at the end of the show back to the "Urinetown" melody. I wanted to bookend the show with ungelled up light when the cast faced the audience and sang directly to them.

Urinetown Finale Phtot
Urinetown Finale

Other songs, however, needed color in the lighting to help the audience break out of the epic tone of the play, particularly when mocking other famous musicals. In these numbers, we typically used color scrollers to change the look of the space significantly.

Urinetown Snuff That Girl Photo
"Snuff That Girl"

Looking back to early research, it seems rather obvious that signage would be a critical part of the production. While foresight would have helped us provide something more interesting for the Bobby Strong Memorial Toilet Authority sign and the Amenity #9 sign, we did accomplish interesting looks for the UGC and Secret Hide Out signs using rope light and tough spun inside shadow boxes.

Urinetown Secret Hide Out Sign Photo
"Why Did I Listen to That Man"

The cyc treatment was another success story. The director suggested a smog-like look for the cyc, accomplished with Chocolate, Rx99. Other colors were a dark blue-green Rx74, and a daylight cyan color, Rx366. Strips of chain link were hung downstage of the FarCycs and upstage of a black scrim. Side lit with eight 6x12 no color elliposoidals allowed the chain link to appear and disappear at will. My initial thought was that the chain link would represent an industrial starscape of some kind, but the ragged bottom edge of the chain link offered more of a bondage feel to the production, and we used it during scenes of oppression.

Urinetown Cop Song Photo
Urinetown "Cop Song"

Another aspect of the design was the use of lighting distribution. Several times it was important to isolate two groups on stage simultaneously. We accomplished this with the use of two ETC Revolution intelligent lights mounted in front of house positions equidistant from center line.

Urinetown "Snuff That Girl" Tap Off
"Snuff That Girl" Tap Off

Urinetown "I'm not Sorry" Photo
"We're Not Sorry"

Since Urinetown is a musical, we couldn't resist including a set of chase lights around the scenic portal. These lights were often included in scenes when we wanted to convey a sense of irony. Is Urinetown a comedy? Or is it meant to convey a serious message? Perhaps the question we must all answer for ourselves is, "What exactly is Urinetown?"

"What is Urinetown?" Photo
"What is Urinetown?"

Production Team Production Crew


UMD Theatre delivers delightful performances in “Urinetown”
by Paul Brissett, Duluth News Tribune
Published Friday, October 19, 2007

Sometime soon, some high school is going to announce it is staging “Urinetown,” triggering hysteria among the usual suspects, who will be monumentally PO’ed. “It’s clearly inappropriate. I haven’t seen it or read it,” they’ll cry, “but that title is soooo disgusting! If it’s your child’s school, know this: “Urinetown” contains absolutely no jokes about bodily functions. The coarsest word in the script is “pee,” employed quite economically.

The play, which opened Thursday in UMD’s Marshall Performing Arts Center, is satire, fable, parody and a gourmet smorgasbord of musical styles of the past 120 or so years. The play is about a town in which a 20-year drought has made private toilets unthinkable. All the public facilities are controlled by the Urine Good Company, a corrupt and greedy monopoly that is constantly raising rates. Ultimately, a lowly attendant at the town’s seediest facility foments rebellion, aided by the daughter of the UGC’s president. The show is charmingly self-deprecating: “Nothing will kill a show,” one character notes, “quicker than a bad title.”

You’re going to want to see “Urinetown” a second time — although it might be tough to get even the first ticket. The first time, you’re going to bask in the fabulous score, the delightful performances and the stunning design work. Then you’re going to want to go again just to see how many musical styles you can identify. As noted, the show is completely free of scatological humor. Indeed, although comic, it includes few actual jokes, but director William Payne has strewn this production with visual humor ranging from broad to subtle. At one end is the elderly man who doesn't have the price of admission, and at the other the occasional synchronized hitch-step of two police officers.

Payne pushes his cast to the very edge of melodrama, but never beyond. Composer Mark Hollman’s score is a tribute to composers from Gilbert and Sullivan to Kurt Weill to Stephen Sondheim and musical styles from gospel to klezmer. “Cop Song” is the descendent of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major General,” “Privilege to Pee” is homage to “The Threepenny Opera” and the gospel-style “Run, Freedom, Run” and “Fiddler on the Roof”-ish “We’re Not Sorry” received the warmest audience reaction of the evening. Serena Brook, who made the cheerfully cynical cop-narrator Officer Lockstock engaging nonetheless, took the lead on “Cop Song,” teaming up with Kyle Kokesh as her partner, Officer Barrel. Martha Gagliardi’s soulful “Privilege” was powerful enough to make Mack the Knife surrender his blade. And Brian Kess’ lead on “Run, Freedom, Run,” as rebel leader Bobby Strong, nearly stopped the show.

UMD Theatre designers, whose work is always impressive, outdid themselves with “Urinetown.” Choreographer Rebecca Katz Harwood paid tribute to her own facet of musical theater with numbers that called to mind “West Side Story,” “Fiddler” and “Les Miserables.” Ashley Ann Woods’ costume work and Makeup Designer Jake Neuman’s work was impeccable, most notably in crafting the chalk-striped, $400 haircut persona that helped make Dan Bigwood’s Caldwell B. Cladwell so deliciously detestable as the president of urinal utility.

Musical Director Tina Thielen-Gaffey and Orchestra Conductor Mark Whitlock gave Hollmann’s score and his and Greg Kotis’s lyrics their due, with full, smooth sound and crisp choral delivery. If you can catch either of them after the show to congratulate them on a great job, you can also have them check your scorecard of musical styles.