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Satirical ‘Urinetown’ ‘ranks up there’ for musicians

Chloe Phillips

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The basses and tenors practice with the direction of Dale Heidebrecht, assistant music professor, in the Bea Wood black box theater on Jan. 16. Photo by Justin Marquart

Satirical. Funny. Entertaining. Poignant and Political. With 19 songs and a cast of about 20 students, the production of “Urinetown: The Musical” began with rehearsals crowded around a piano Dec. 5.

When choosing a musical, Dale Heidebrecht, director of choral studies and musical director, said the departments were focusing on social justice issues. This is his third year at Midwestern and first musical here. The “Sound of Music” is one of Heidebrecht’s favorite shows he has directed, but “Urinetown” “ranks up there.”

“There’s not a single bad song in this musical. Every one has its own style,” Heidebrecht said, noting that the songs in the performance cover multiple genres from Broadway showtunes to gospel style to hip-hop. “Those genres kind of cross over between each other, but it’s a broad spectrum of musical styles in the musical which is fantastic because every song is different. Every moment of the show varies so it’s a pretty good show. Nobody’s ever heard of it, and that’s okay.”

And technically, the show utilizes various musical aspects from different instruments to tie the show together. According to Myles Hanford, woodwind musician and saxophone performance sophomore, while this wasn’t his first time playing for a theater production, he faced unique challenges playing four different instruments throughout the production. He said “the fact that it has a written a clarinet improvised solo section that reads ‘go crazy’ isn’t too bad either.”

“Despite the fact that you have to carry around about $15,000 worth of equipment with you every rehearsal and performance, I’m having to play instruments I’m only vaguely experienced with,” Hanford said. “Each instrument has it’s own timbre, its own fingering, its own specific way to play. So having to change all of that numerous times every five minutes of music is obviously challenging, but still healthy for me.”

Heidebrecht said “Urinetown,” which won two Tony Awards for best original score and best book of a musical, stayed on his list for musicals after seeing it about 10 years ago.

“I loved it, that’s why it stayed on my short list widdling everything down because it’s so funny,” he said in between listening to cast members learning their parts. “It’s entertaining. It’s poignant. It makes a political statement. It makes an ecology statement. You know it’s important. It’s a musical that tries to do something.”

Over the span of his career, Mike Brenmark, percussion studio senior, was stationed in seven different Army Bands and was deployed three times, and his through this, Brenmark said the pit instrumentalists are the “bridge between the cast and the audience.”

“Our music supports the emotions that the actors are portraying and it reels the audience into the show’s scenes that much more,” Brenmark said. “Being that bridge between both is rewarding and exciting. I get to view that connection of the cast to the audience.”

Samuel Mitchell, mass communication sophomore, who plays Bobby Strong, said he auditioned for the musical last spring to be more involved in the theater department. He also joined Alpha Psi Omega, the national theater society. Mitchell said his main solo, “Run, Freedom Run,” was his favorite to perform, describing it as soulful. He said he liked the opportunity to dance and lead the choir.

“I decided, ‘why not audition for the musical?’ It’s where all my friends are,” Mitchell said. “I enjoy theater. Let’s do this. It seems like a good time. I auditioned. I made it, and I’m just excited to see where it goes from here.”

Mitchell said he likes the musical because of its portrayal of humor without being self-aware.

“It’s not trying to be funny: just the situations everybody is in is funny, that’s what I like about it, that it’s not trying to be constantly trying to be funny, and trying to crack jokes: it just is,” Mitchell said. 

IIka Megee, theater education sophomore, who plays Hope Cladwell, said she is also happy about the musical choice especially since the last musical the department did, “Sweeney Todd,” was darker in tone.

“I’m glad we’re doing a comedic musical because you always get audience participation with those versus like a dramatic one. I think it gives them a lot of energy. We have a lot of energy from it and it keeps the show going so that’s really exciting,” Megee said.

Drew Davis, trombone player and music education junior, said although this is his first time ever playing in a orchestra, he would definitely do it again, given the opportunity.

“It’s not like anything I’ve ever done, but it’s a lot of fun,” Davis said. “If I was offered to play in a theatre production again, I definitely would.”It’s very different from music I play in ever other ensemble. It’s nice to play something different every once in a while.”

Jimmy Benecasa and Sandra Cunningham, staff accompanists and pianists, teamed up for this production, and together they traded-off rehearsals and performances. As a pianist, Benecasa said he worked with different singers in different rooms during rehearsals in order to help out different groups up singers for more efficient practice times.

“My favorite part of being in the pit orchestra would be working with the one and only Dr. Dale Heidebrecht,” Benecasa said. “His direction and enthusiasm makes it an enjoyable experience.”

In contrast, Addrian Gaut, theater senior, said he was excited to have been cast in his first musical, but not excited by the theme of the musical.

Gaut said, “At first, I was a little [weirded out/apprehensive about] the whole peeing and not being able to [use the restroom freely and] it’s a privilege to pee. When you read more into it, you have the overall [idea of] what it’s about about and how satirical [it is]. I think it’s really interesting.”

Additional reporting by Nizhoni Terronez.

MUSICAL SUMMARY: “Urinetown: The Musical” is a satirical comedy musical that premiered in 2001, with music by Mark Hollmann, lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, and book by Kotis. It satirizes the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement and municipal politics.

DEBUTUrinetown debuted at the New York International Fringe Festival, and then was produced Off-Broadway at the American Theatre for Actors, from May 6, 2001 to June 25, 2001. The musical then opened on Broadway at Henry Miller’s Theatre, running from Sept. 20, 2001 through Jan. 18, 2004, totaling 25 previews and 965 performances.

AWARDS: It was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won three.

 

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Cast members for "Urinetown" practice lines at rehersals in the Bea Wood Theatre on Jan. 17. Photo by Latoya Fondren
Cast members for "Urinetown" practice lines at rehersals in the Bea Wood Theatre on Jan. 17. Photo by Latoya Fondren
Cast members for "Urinetown" practice lines at rehersals in the Bea Wood Theatre on Jan. 17. Photo by Latoya Fondren
Cast members for "Urinetown" practice lines at rehersals in the Bea Wood Theatre on Jan. 17. Photo by Latoya Fondren
Cast members for "Urinetown" practice lines at rehersals in the Bea Wood Theatre on Jan. 17. Photo by Latoya Fondren
Cast members for "Urinetown" practice lines at rehersals in the Bea Wood Theatre on Jan. 17. Photo by Latoya Fondren
Ellanor Collins at rehearshal for "Urinetown" on Jan. 17. Photo by Latoya Fondren
Ellanor Collins at rehearshal for "Urinetown" on Jan. 17. Photo by Latoya Fondren
Ellanor Collins sings at rehearsal for the production of "Urinetown" on Jan. 17. Photo by Latoya Fondren
Ellanor Collins sings at rehearsal for the production of "Urinetown" on Jan. 17. Photo by Latoya Fondren

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Chloe Phillips, Co-Editor

Chloe Phillips is a Co-Editor for The Wichitan. Chloe is a mass communication major, minoring in journalism. She has been apart of The Wichitan since Fall...

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Satirical ‘Urinetown’ ‘ranks up there’ for musicians