Serious issues underscore unusual musical comedy

Don’t let the name fool you – Urinetown, the musical opening Thursday (Jan. 25) in Nanaimo, has not a pee joke in sight.

“There’s no potty humour, so to speak,” said Erik Gow, who plays Bobby Strong, the assistant custodian of a public urinal.

Urinetown is a futuristic type of play, where a severe water shortage has forced residents of a Gotham-like city to use public washroom facilities. They literally must pay to pee.

While it’s a comedy, the issues of water consumption and quality brought forth are very relevant today, said Gary Brown, the play’s director.

“It’s very timely,” Brown said. “We’re laughing at them but they’re serious matters.”

Gow’s character starts a revolution against the Urine Good Company, the owners of the public washrooms. Complicating matters is Hope Cladwell, played by Amber Lochead, the daughter of Urine Good Company’s owner who falls for Bobby Strong.

“This is the Romeo and Juliet portion of the show,” Brown said.

He discovered the play while watching the 2002 Tony Awards – the event honouring the best in theatre – and waited until the rights to produce it were available. He said the songs, dancing and acting blew him away.

“It was up for numerous Tony Awards,” Brown said.

It’s a small production by Broadway standards, with 18 cast members, five musicians and 10 working behind the scenes. But it’s a demanding play for the actors to perform.

“Everyone has to be a triple threat,” Brown said.

“I’m singing in a different vocal range than I’ve ever done before,” Lochead said.

“And then we do very difficult dances at the same time,” added Gow.

For Amy Mikkelborg, who plays Penelope Pennywise, the proprietress of the poorest, filthiest urinal in town, working on the play has been a reward in itself.

“I’ve enjoyed every second of it,” Mikkelborg said. “It’s a challenge but it’s a lot of fun, too.”

The lead actors all have extensive backgrounds in theatre. Lochead became involved in amateur theater in 1985, and trained vocally at the Academy of Music in Chilliwack. In the spring of 2005, she started work with Bard to Broadway in Qualicum Beach, which was founded by Brown in 2000.

Gow was introduced to music at the age of seven, and proceeded to perform in school musicals in the Okanagan and then on the Island after moving here in 2004. He’ll perform with Bard to Broadway and the Chemainus Theatre Festival this summer, and plans on attending university in the future.

Mikkelborg tackled many different theatre roles while living in Seattle, and performed with Bard to Broadway and Western Edge Theatre after moving to the Island. She’s also been a member of the Bel Canto Singers.

Urinetown has enough tongue and cheek humour to appeal to people who usually don’t watch musicals, plus clever song parodies to appeal to people who love them.

“It’s going to be a really neat thing for Nanaimo to go and see,” Mikkelborg said.

Urinetown runs Jan. 25-Feb. 3. Please call 1-877-752-6813 for more information.

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