Urinetown: this musical doesnt go with the flow

Tony Award-winning satire brings non-traditional fun to stage
by: Courtesy photo Officer Lockstock (Brian Joines) explains the finer points of Urinetown public policy to Little Sally (Jillian Stenke). The musical opens at Theatre in the Grove Friday night.

Theatre in the Grove is headed to the toilet, but not in a filthy way. Last week, the group debuted its latest production, 'Urinetown: The Musical,' a satire of musical theater chock full of songs, dance and humor.

Director Ken Centers said skeptical audience members need not worry. Despite its lowbrow title, the family-friendly production has something for everybody willing to forego traditional expectations.

'Anyone that will give it a chance is going to fall in love with it,' said Centers. '[For] people who are not aware of it and will give it a chance, it will become one of their favorite shows.'

Written by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann, 'Urinetown' became an instant hit when it debuted off Broadway in 2001. The story of a decrepit town that, following a 20-year drought, outlaws private bathrooms in favor of public toilets run by a greedy corporation, the show garnered Tony Awards for its script and score. It has since become a staple of community theater and high school productions.

Centers was initially wary of the show, thinking it another bizarre off-Broadway production with limited appeal. Following its awards buzz, his son, involved in a production of the play at Southern Oregon University, insisted Centers give it a shot.

He's been hooked ever since.

'I just fell in love with it. It's such a funny, entertaining show,' said Centers, a TITG board member whose enthusiasm inspired him to take on director duties for the first time since 1996. 'I don't direct a lot of shows unless I really, really want to do it.'

Centers said the show's musical numbers, paired with its send-up of traditional musical theater, drew him immediately to the production.

'I love satire. It's one of my favorite kinds of theater,' said Centers. 'In its core, this is a satire of musical theater. It takes those overly dramatic stories like 'West Side Story' and 'Les Miserables' and pokes fun at the whole convention of musical theater with its ridiculous premise. You see scenes and hear songs that are reminiscent of other shows but are just different enough.'

Employing a cast of 18 along with a crew that includes his wife, Pruella (herself a veteran director) and son, Zachary - Team Centers, as he jokingly refers to the unit - Centers said he had his hands full on his return to the director's chair. Still, it's a task he's more than willing to take on due to his expressed love of the material.

'When people watch others direct, they think, 'Oh, I can do that. That's easy,'' he said with a laugh. 'When you actually get into it yourself, you have to make all the decisions. You've got to make 100 decisions a day and get at least 90 percent of it right.

'It's a big responsibility, and you've got to be on your toes all the time.'

That responsibility has proven challenging. Last minute replacements of the show's pianist and choreographer threw a wrench into production, and illness among the cast prevented a full rehearsal until the week before opening.

But once all the players were in place, Centers said all worries went down the tubes.

'This cast has been so creative. You have a lot of license to try a lot of things,' said Centers. 'It's very liberating to be as silly as you want and try to come up with anything that might make somebody laugh.'

Centers also acknowledged that the title might give people the wrong impression of the show's lighthearted nature. But the director insists that the show's quality and family-friendly songs are more than enough to change people's minds - the production, with its frequent jabs at other musicals, even sees characters addressing the title's inherent goofiness directly to the audience.

'When I first heard the title, I thought it was a weird Broadway show I'd never want to see,' said Centers. 'That's definitely not the case here. It's a family-friendly show with no adult language [and] no sexual references. It's just this wonderful spoof. It's the classic good vs. evil story done in a fun, crazy way that satirizes theater.

'The music is incredible. It has amazing songs. People are going to love it.'