‘U-r-ine’ for a good time
Musical production wows audience, engages community
The staging of Cal State L.A.’s recent musical production couldn’t have been timelier.
As Theatre Arts and Dance Department students prepped for their “dirty and gritty” performance of Urinetown — a Tony Award-winning tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a town suffering from a 20-year drought — residents throughout the state heard warnings of water use restrictions and drought.
First, there was the Governor’s Feb. 27 California State of Emergency declaration of a three-year drought. Then on June 1, just over a week after the show’s last performance, water use regulations and fee increases were put in place for those who use more than their allotment.
“(The musical) was certainly socially significant,” said Urinetown director and Theatre Arts and Dance professor Meredith Greenburg. “.. and the timing of the play with what was happening in the state reinforced everything.
“The students have all taken or are taking (Theresa Larkin’s) performance and social change class … and it’s because of the passion that she has for teaching that class that this performance and its message translated so well.”
“One of the things that was so inspiring about being with (this cast) was learning the balance between talent and inspiration. What became really clear to me was how important the work really was (to them). That inspired me all the more,” musical director Gerald Sternbach said.
It was like two parallel universes simultaneously unfolding, cast members said. In one universe was the community, where the effects of strained water resources could be seen in browning lawns and shorter showers. And in parallel, was the stage, where fear and pandemonium had taken hold in a place where water was so precious you had to “pay to pee.”
“It brought everything together,” said cast member Kolleen Richards. She noted that the cast even connected with the sold-out audiences during intermissions and breaks, accosting those in attendance, stealing their water bottles and begging for pennies. (Watch videos of the students promoting the show in the University food court and practicing on YouTube.)
The quality of the production garnered significant praise and attention around campus and in the community, with some audience members and industry professionals even noting that it was better than the Broadway staging. The cast hopes to be invited to the American College Theatre Festival’s regional festival for the chance to compete on both the regional and national level.
In the end, though, the 28-member cast ensemble and cadre of backstage designers and crew members ended up not only wowing and enlightening audiences — but they learned something about themselves as performers and consumers.
They also discovered what it’s like to work alongside one of the city’s most acclaimed musical directors, Gerald Sternbach, and what it’s like to be part of an ensemble, where, as one student said — “we all knew if we didn’t do this all together, we would fail.”
And last, but not least, the production’s environmental message resounded.
“It definitely got me thinking,” said cast member Taylor Edwards. “Before I heard (about the drought) on the radio and I thought ‘I am not even from California. This doesn’t matter to me.’ … Then I was in the shower today and I was thinking ‘Oh, I’ve got to get out of here. We are in a drought and this is going to cost.’”