Expelling “Urinetown” (Pun Intended)

30 11 2006

I have my own conflict-filled Urinetown story to tell, how we fought to get it first in my college town the moment it became licensed for local productions.

The college kids won, stole it right out from under our community theatre company; not even a musical-mad community like ours needs two Urinetowns in the same semester, although given its creative opportunities we could have put on two quite different versions — the show’s Broadway producer recently said it “can be interpreted in different ways. It is basically a playground for any director, choreographer or design team to use their creative imagination. . .

But today Urinetown’s power of story is the opposite of creative license and fighting for the chance to be first with the most.

It, sadly, is about stifling and smothering the arts rather than vigorous competition for the chance to show what we know and can do on the cutting edge. It’s about small-minded people fighting to keep this challenging musical AWAY from their schools and students (and worse, even justifying their small-mindedness by claiming to be broad-minded! Read on.)

This is especially jarring for me after the lovely Julliard education experiment I blogged the other day, in which school music is being elevated to its real-world range of expression rather than being dumbed down to forcefed school pabulum for aspiring artists stuck with nothing else to sink their teeth into.

I guess no school budget ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of its kids or community. Here are two of these very backward stories, and there are others. The only apparent good news here is that the Catholic school is apparently less repressive than the public school!

ERIE, Pa. (AP) – Cathedral Prep high school in Erie must try to sell tickets to its upcoming school play without referring to its title — “Urinetown: The Musical.”

Erie Catholic Bishop Donald Trautman does not object to the play itself — but a diocesan spokesman says the bishop is concerned with the title “Urinetown” being connected publicly to the all-male Catholic high school.

Because altering the name of the Broadway show is illegal, the priest that is directing the play — Father Michael DeMartinis — says he has the unenviable task of producing tickets, posters and programs that don’t use the play’s name.

The play is scheduled for December seventh through tenth. DeMartinis says he’s hoping people will come to see this play which dare not speak its name.

(Maybe they could send a bus to Wisconsin for all the folks shut out of seeing the play there, offer some sort of weekend package?)

High School Gives Urinetown the Big Flush
. . .”Urinetown” a comedy about a town plagued by such a serious drought thatresidents must pay to use public restrooms, was a surprise hit on the GreatWhite Way. But while it suited Broadway to a pee, it just won’t play inPeoria. Or the Wisconsin town of Stevens Point.

That was the ruling of the school administrators who brought the curtain down on a production of the show by students at Stevens Point Area High School, the Associated Press reports.

The show’s bathroom humor and adult themes figured in the decision to cancel it, according to Principal Mike Devine.

“This is a K-12 public education system,” said School Superintendent BetteLang, contending the show’s satirical and ironic humor was not appropriatefor younger audiences.

“I think it’s important to remember them and when we showcase our students, we should showcase them to as broad a range as possible,” she said,

according to the Associated Press.

Auditions that would have been held last week were called off, leaving some students a bit, uh, PO’d.

“I’ve lost respect that they’re not willing to support the arts by doing a
new, groundbreaking musical,” senior Ian Allen said. “I think the
superintendent is [underestimating] the intelligence of the Stevens Point
community.”

Past musicals at the school have included “Carousel,” “Damn Yankees” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” but school director Greg Chelcun said students should not be limited to those types of productions. He said putting on plays that challenge the actors and the audience is an importantaspect of theater.

Administrators plan to have a committee select another musical to be
produced this school year. Chelcun said if it isn’t “Urinetown,” he doesn’t plan to direct.

UPDATE – They did pick a new play, the criminal glorification of a probable pedophile

–called The Music Man 😉 —
and a new director, because it seems the first one made good on his principles and refused to cave.

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4 responses

30 11 2006
misedjj

We didn’t get to see this show in New York or Chicago (or anywhere, for that matter) but my musical-loving unschooled kids, both still young enough to have been affected by this “protection” from the arts, are crazy about the Urinetown cast recording (it’s right up there with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in their estimation) and we often sing along to the CD in the car. It’s given us great pleasure.

1 12 2006
misedjj

This reminded me of other school play prudery — one cancelled show was a musical still very popular with kids today and about to be a TV talent-search phemomenon, the other was a CLASSIC drama critical for every generation to experience and understand from the inside out, to avoid repeating. Both offer much more power of story than sports imo! It’s a musical theatre lover’s essay about Grease and the Crucible (the latter of which remains in that school’s required curriculum, but cannot be staged?!?)

16 03 2007
Musical Theatre Gets Teacher Fired (yes, again) « Cocking A Snook!

[…] (yes, again) 16 03 2007 You knew I couldn’t let this one go unblogged, not after Urinetown and please note, that was at least a school play involving the students — this is more […]

23 09 2007
Banned Books Week Needs More Than Celebration This Year « Cocking A Snook!

[…] radio, Dan Rather and Swiftboat veterans on TV, the school play canceled just for having a vaguely offensive name like “Urinetown.” And there’s all sorts of hardly noticedmovie word-censoring, artistically offensive to me […]

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