Not Holding It In: ‘Urinetown’ Belmont High’s Number One Musical

Photo: Rehearsal for “Urinetown.”

For three days in April, the Belmont High School Performing Arts Company is turning the “Town of Homes” into “Urinetown.”

But don’t worry folks. Unlike the residents of the mythical city, it’ll still be free to pee for the steady stream attending this year’s spring musical. Rumors to the contrary are just yellow journalism.

With a big banner over Belmont Center and placards dotting yards announcing the show, the response from many curious residents upon seeing BHS PAC’s choice for the spring musical is:

  1. “Urinetown? What the … !”
  2.  Yew!

But before you pass judgment, even the characters know that the show’s title and subject matter “could a kill a show pretty good!” as Little Sally tells the audience. Urinetown is, if anything, full of wit and humor about a subject that isn’t normal musical material.

Anyone who might be squeamish to buy a ticket due to the title, cast member Belmont High senior Jocelyn Cubstead said the show has universal appeal, for obvious reasons. 

“If you know what it’s like to go to the bathroom really bad, this show is for you,” said Cubstead who portrays Penelope Pennywise, the strict matron of the filthiest urinal in the city.

While many might initially believe a musical about urinating is limited to a more mature audience, “‘Urinetown’ is anything but an ‘adults only’ event,” said Ezra Flam, the producer and director of this edition of the award-winning musical.

“People who aren’t familiar with ‘Urinetown’ and just hear the title or a brief description might not realize that this show is a musical comedy at heart, and the bizarre premise and dark plot are part of the humor and comedy,” said Flam, who has been rehearsing the students since December. 

The musical is just as much about civil revolution and star-crossed lovers as it is the need to pay for “the privilege to pee.”

“Anyone from 4th grade and will get the show and appreciate the humor. Parents of kids younger than 4th grade might want to do a little more research before coming, but the title is definitely the most “un-PG” thing in the show,” said Flam, who noted the musical has “been a high school, college and community theater staple for the past decade.

And the plot is as contemporary as a billionaire trying to take control of the people only to have a courageous progressive standing in his way.

In a Depression-era metropolis, a 20-year drought has caused such a water shortage that the city government has banned private toilets. The citizens must use “public amenities,” regulated by a monopoly that profits by charging admission for one of humanity’s most basic needs.

Amid the people, a young, idealistic hero, Bobby Strong, decides he’s had enough and plans a revolution to lead them running to freedom! Along the way, the audience is kept informed of the plot with Officer Lockstock assisted by a street urchin named Little Sally.  But, by the end, good intentions don’t always lead to the best outcome. But you’ll have to see the musical to find out what happens.

The plot moves along with a raw, jazzy Kurt Weill-inspired score (think of Urinetown as the “Spend a Penny Opera”) and lyrics that could have come from 1930’s progressive musicals such as “The Cradle Will Rock” only that the characters are not just freeing the masses but also their bladders.

The show was a hit on Broadway with Hunter Foster in the lead with Broadway legend John Cullum in the role of the ‘evil’ Caldwell B. Cladwell. The musical won Tony Awards for the script, score and direction in 2001.

“It opened on Broadway just after 9/11, (it was originally scheduled to open on Sept. 13 but was pushed back a week) which was a tough time for theater in New York, so that’s a big reason people haven’t heard of it,” said Flam.

But once the word filters out, Belmont will be ready to stand in line for the privilege to see “Urinetown.”

Performances are:

  • Thursday and Friday, April 7 and 8, at 7 p.m. 
  • Saturday, April 9 at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Tickets will be online and at Champions Sporting Goods in Belmont Center. Tickets are $10 for students (BHS students get half price tickets Thursday) and $15 for adults ($18 if they wait to buy them at the show).

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