What is the musical 'Urinetown' about?

The plot of Hinsdale Central High School's spring musical isn't easy to explain, but junior Grace McGowan summed it up in a single sentence.

"It's the American revolution, but with pee," said McGowan, who plays Little Sally in "Urinetown," coming to the Central stage April 21 and 22 (see Page 18 for details).

"Urinetown" takes a satirical look at the nation's legal system, capitalism, bureaucracy and local politics. It also makes fun of musical theater, all while fully embracing its dark side. The show takes place in a town where citizens are required to pay for the use of public toilets, all of which are owned by the Urine Good Co. Violators of the government's ban on private toilets are sent to a place called "Urinetown."

As Little Sally, McGowan said she often says out loud what the audience is likely thinking. Little Sally acts as a narrator, often breaking what actors call "the fourth wall" to bring the audience up to speed and to remind them exactly where they are - a high school auditorium. Unlike some theatrical productions, McGowan said "Urinetown' doesn't try to transport its audience.

Instead, the audience's view of the stage includes peaks at the wings, reminding them that they are sitting in a theater watching a show.

The simple set, McGowan said, includes three restroom doors through which people enter and exit, but the audience is left to picture for themselves what is inside.

The role of Little Sally requires McGowan to act, sing and dance - all things she's been doing for years. McGowan performed in her first musical as a middle schooler, but has been dancing since early elementary school and started singing in fourth grade. She said she's not sure if her first show was at Hinsdale Middle School or at BAM Theater, but by seventh grade, McGowan said she knew her future would include plenty of musicals.

McGowan most recently appeared as Cinderella in BAM Theater's production of "Into the Woods." In "Urinetown," she plays a character who has been described as precocious and irreverent, but McGowan said Little Sally also is kind, forgiving and a bit naive.

"She essentially grows into a more adult mindset of realizing not everyone will be kind, even if you put forth your best self," McGowan said.

Through songs and dialogue, "Urinetown" tells a story that McGowan said is intended to leave the audience thinking.

"It's a fun show," McGowan said, despite its violence and dark humor.

As a junior who plans to attend college, this is a busy spring for McGowan, who along with her work on the show and in school also studies voice. She said she takes advantage of breaks in rehearsal to study and prepare assignments.

Plenty of decisions are yet to be made, but McGowan said she likely will pursue something in the arts, whether it's dance, music or theater.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean