For the first time in 10 years, Lewis & Clark’s Fir Acres Theatre will be filled with the melodies of a main stage musical. Opening Nov. 6, “Urinetown, the Musical,” marks a major collaboration between the theatre and music departments, members of Portland’s creative community and close to sixty student actors, musicians, and crew members.
An award-winning satire by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis about a society in which private toilets have been outlawed, “Urinetown” made its Broadway debut in 2001. Tired of being forced to abide pay-per-use public toilets, destitute citizens rise up against the corporation in control of what should be a basic human right.
“The story hits upon these major questions about capitalism, bureaucracy, and politics, but it does so in a completely tongue-in-cheek way,” Simek said. “There’s a sense that the creators, Kotis and Hollmann said, ‘Let’s take a story that’s utterly ridiculous and have fun with it.’ Letting go like that, and finding joy in the absurd, is what attracted me to ‘Urinetown.’”
Creating connections across departments and disciplines
More than fifty students are bringing the musical to life, led by a cadre of professional theatre and music experts. Simek, who has earned accolades for his direction and translation of a number of professional productions, convened luminaries from across the Portland theater community to assist with “Urinetown.”
Taking visual cues from contemporary photographs of New York City, the Emmy Award Award-winning scenic designer Curt Enderle brings his extensive experience to Fir Acres. Cara Carr, a contributor to more than 100 productions in the area, designs the costumes, drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Norman Rockwell and the Village People, and the local choreographer, Lisa Zandy, stages the numerous energy-filled dances.
Together with this accomplished theatrical staff, faculty members from Lewis & Clark’s music department, conductor David Becker and vocal director Susan McBerry, have helped prepare the students for vocal and instrumental performances.
“The diverse group of students involved is remarkable,” Simek said. “We have vocal performance majors, theatre majors, music majors, and non-majors in our midst.”
Junior Dylan Peden, a mathematics major with a minor in music, has relished the opportunity to perform in “Urinetown” and to develop bonds with other actors.
“It is such a fun show to be a part of because it is hilarious and well written, with great songs and dance numbers and a brilliant political-environmental satire embedded in the script,” Peden said. “But what I like most about being in ‘Urinetown’ is the cast. I have really enjoyed getting to know my fellow actors, and I love the bond that forms when you spend hours upon hours around each other.”
Theatre major Erin Dees, a junior, echoes that sentiment, saying that she has enjoyed the relationships fostered by the collaboration between theatre and music.
“This is really the biggest musical I have been a part of—and the first in a very long time,” said theatre major Erin Dees, a junior. “I am one of the only cast members who is not a singer in a choir or a cappella group, or who has no musical training, so it is a bit intimidating, but everyone in the cast is so great. I’ve made some lifelong friends through this experience.”
Simek says one of the most important connections that “Urinetown” makes is with audience members and with their collective memory of the musical genre.
“The show seems to be constantly pointing a finger at itself by referencing a vast body of American musicals, and intelligently and creatively poking fun at the genre,” he said. “Additionally, the presence of narrators in the play helps the break down the fourth wall, thus directly engaging the audience.“
“Urinetown,” will be open for two weeks, with nightly performances Nov. 6-8 and 13-15 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Box Office, beginning Monday, Nov. 3, and reservations can be made by calling 503-768-7495. More information is available online.