Urinetown is one of those musicals that gets better on the second (or third or twentieth) hearing... there are jokes and references embedded very subtly, and perhaps because this production picked up things that I had previously missed (while missing a few that I love) this was driven home today. The more you know the more you think. And laugh. And worry. And laugh more.
One fascinating thing about it is what is isn't. It is decidedly not toilet humour. That isn't to say that it isn't very funny. Or that there isn't plenty of talk about toilets. And even humorous talk about toilets... but not your bog standard piss taking (if you will.) That said, there is one toilet pun. It is so cleverly hidden that almost no one hears it (Hint... listen for the "wee-wee" it's in the first song.)
The bodily fluid that features most prominently is, despite the title, blood.
Here are just a few of the onion-like layers that make up Urinetown. Most of them I have (or will) expand on more in other posts.
Socio-economics and Crowds
It is extra poignant if you understand Thomas Malthus' Principal of Population:
The increase of the population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence.If you understand this it will make the continual references to bunnies mean a whole lot more. There are plenty of ideas of crowd theory, the mentality of masses, to the extent that you could probably write an honour-winning dissertation bringing in Gustav Le Bon (A Study of the Popular Mind) if you were so inclined. I'm not sure I would recommend that because spending too much time buried in those theories might well lead one to severe depression, disappear over the future of humanity, and voluntary exile to Urinetown. But you could.
The population invariably increases when the means of subsistence increase.
The supperior power of population is repressed and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence by misery and vice.
The politics of toilets
Toilet closures and fees effect us all, and almost everyone can probably empathize with not wanting to pay. While Urinetown is, in many ways, anti-fees (the premise on which the musical is based!) But it doesn't suggest that getting rid of fees will make the world a happier place... indeed it actually points to a strong case for keeping them. Moderation in all things may, by virtue of its absence, be a message of Urinetown. (see previous post on Charging fees as we please.)
"The Stink Years"
In 1858 after centuries of unorganized sanitation the Thames heated up and smelled so bad that MP's in the newly opened houses of parliament could only meet behind heavily curtained windows with scented handkerchiefs over their noses. It was known as "The Great Stink." That's why London has it's mighty sewer system (in dire need of updating, but still one of the largest in the world!)
"The stink years" come up a lot in Urinetown... the time before the private companies took over to regulate. So history buffs can chuckle appreciatively at that one.
The world is eventually going to run out of clean water. Probably sooner than any of us like to think. And we still use it like there is no tomorrow, flushing a third of it down the toilet each day in the UK. Long-term sustainable solutions are being developed, but whether they will ever catch on is anybodies guess. It could well take another Great Stink to scare us into action.
Longer blog post on this to come soon.
It's just plain fun!!!
You can also ignore everything that is written above.
Just enjoy the musical, bunnies, blood and all. It's funny in and of itself. Bunnies are cute. Peeing on the street is yucky. Monopolizing corporations are evil. Surprises are generally unexpected.
And the music is so happy!!!
Urinetown plays at St James Theatre 22 Feb - 3 May 2014.
Go see it! You'll be glad you did!
A checklist of things to look for:
- The "wee-wee" joke
- Sweeney Todd reference
- Billy Elliot reference (Which I think was a Les Miz reference in the original production)
- References to "The Stink Years" and public health acts.
- Lost opportunities for breast jokes (obviously the director and costumer are more tasteful than I am.)
- Count how many times bunnies are mentioned or appear.