In the world of the Tony-winning 2001 musical “Urinetown,” it’s a privilege to pee. Those who can’t pay to use the toilets controlled by the evil Urine Good Co. wind up in Urinetown, a penal colony from which no one ever returns.
Part social commentary, part silly comedy, the Saint Martin’s University production, opening Saturday, features local theater stalwarts Andy Gordon, Amanda Stevens, Jana Tyrrell and Tom Sanders in a cast that’s about half students and half community members.
“It’s more relevant in 2018 than it was in 2001,” said director Brian Tyrrell, a theater veteran and Jana Tyrrell’s husband. “People will leave whistling a happy tune, but they will also be moved by the relevance.”
A Gotham-like city has endured a 20-year drought, and The Urine Good Co., run by the villainous Caldwell B. Cladwell (Gordon), is in charge of facilities. So there’s an environmental message in a world where water shortages are becoming increasingly common.
The show’s themes also echo local concerns about the availability and accessibility of public restrooms for people without homes.
“It’s a very important narrative with what’s going on not only locally but in the United States with the political system,” said Chad Carpenter, Saint Martin’s production stage manager. “It puts a lighthearted spin on it, but it does remind you that we face these things.”
The director describes an exchange between Officer Lockstock (yes, there’s also an Officer Barrel) and poor Little Sally, who serve as narrators and break character to comment on the production itself.
“I don’t think too many people are going to come and see this musical,” Little Sally (Katie Medford) tells Lockstock (Tyler Williams).
“Why do you say that, Little Sally?” he replies. “Don’t you think people want to be told that their way of life is unsustainable?”
“It gets a laugh,” Tyrrell said, “but it’s a very dark laugh because there is such a reality and such a truth to that.”
If a satire that mixes pee and political commentary seems an edgy choice for a Benedictine university, it’s not the first time Saint Martin’s has produced work by Greg Kotis, who with Mark Hollman won 2002 Tony awards for “Urinetown’s” book and score.
Tyrrell was one of the directors for the university’s 2016 “30 Plays in 60 Minutes,” written by The Neo-Futurists, the improv group with which Kotis was touring Europe when he encountered the paid public toilets that inspired “Urinetown.”
“He didn’t realize till he got there that he had to pay to pee,” the director said. “He needed to pinch his pennies so he could take care of necessary business.”
He loved the musical when he saw it on Broadway, and both he and Carpenter spoke to the importance of doing a show that has something to say.
“It’s good to not just do safe productions,” Carpenter said. “It’s good to make people think.
“In the theater circles I run in, we love those moments where we watch a show and we’re still talking about it weeks later because it transformed our way of thinking.”
What: Saint Martin’s University theater and music departments present the award-winning 2001 musical about a dystopian society where everyone must pay to pee — or pay the consequences.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday plus April 10-14 and 2 p.m. April 8
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
More information: brownpapertickets.com/event/3381689