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The upcoming MSU Department of Theatre production of “Urinetown, the Musical,” a dystopian story of a world experiencing a 20-year drought, was chosen over a year ago to complement MSU’s yearlong, campus-wide Water Moves campaign. But as the Flint Water Crisis continued to unfold, director Brad Willcuts realized that the dark satire is even more relevant to citizens of mid-Michigan.
“It kind of became clear that our choice, which had nothing to do with Flint, might kind of serendipitously align,” Willcuts said.
In the world of “Urinetown,” an extended drought has made private toilets impossible. To control water consumption, people are forced to use pay-to-pee facilities run by a mega-corporation called Urine Good Company, and those who violate the rules are sent to a penal colony named Urinetown. While the premise is absurd, the brings into focus serious issues of basic human rights.
Willcuts believes the show is a great choice for educational theater, because it can spur dialogue on tough issues.
“Theater has long been a very valuable power to comment on the human condition and reflect society,” he said. “I think it’s a really valuable way for our students to not only replicate a show, but to use an already well written script and align it with something that hits close to home.”
Students involved in the production often discuss the Flint Water Crisis, Willcuts said, and are finding parallels in the musical.
“They’re thinking about their current situation, responding to something that’s right on their doorstep,” he said.
The students involved in the play did extensive research to develop their roles.
“What we found was this exceptionally deep process for the students to sink their teeth into this piece that was more personal and regional,” Willcuts said. “It really helps the production reach a new level of depth and complexity.”
Willcuts said that building on the educational value of the musical is important. The show will feature a lobby display related to the Flint Water Crisis. On April 22, between the matinee and evening performance, there is a free symposium featuring researchers, artists and activists connected to the crisis. Willcuts himself hosts a pre-show discussion at 1:15 p.m. April 23.
“When you enter the theater, you’ll be surrounded by artwork and science and commentary from faculty and students,” Willcuts said. “If you have the time, you can also listen to a group of seven panelists who are experts in their fields discuss the current situation of the Flint water crisis.”
The musical, Willcuts said, is not too adult for children to understand. He’s hoping that the show will draw people and families from all walks of life.
“You’re not just getting a musical. You’re getting an original piece of theater that is reflective of Michigan and our neighborhood,” he said. “I think it’ll be a much more personal experience.”
“Urinetown, the Musical”
Friday, April 14-Sunday, April 23 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m.
Sunday; 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday-Thursday (Special 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, March 22) $22/$20 seniors and faculty/$17 students/$10 children Pasant Theatre Wharton Center 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing (517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com
Flint Water Crisis Symposium
4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22 FREE Pasant Theatre Wharton Center 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing (517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com