Paying to pee

Ever played the game of sardines? A glorified version of hide-and-seek, the object is to fit as many people as possible into a tiny hiding spot.

Ever played the game of sardines?

A glorified version of hide-and-seek, the object is to fit as many people as possible into a tiny hiding spot.

Well, director Eric Epstein has taken it a step farther.

He has crammed 17 cast members, five musicians and several crewmembers into the teeny Guild Hall for his upcoming musical, Urinetown.

“I would say it’s very crowded backstage,” he said.

“But it will be a very entertaining evening in the theatre — people will be blown away by the size of the cast and band and the fact that we’ve managed in this very intimate, theatre space to create a large Broadway show is pretty phenomenal.”

The audience will be so close to the band and the 17 singers, all belting out musical numbers, it will lift people right out of their seats, he said.

“The power of the show in this small space is quite intense when you compare it to the arts centre stage.”

Tucked behind the looming, painted brick walls of the set is a tiny nook.

It would hold a single bed, at most.

In the nook there’s a drum kit, an electric piano, a stand-up bass, and several chairs to accommodate the saxophone/clarinet player and the trombone/euphonium player.

The musical director Chic Callas couldn’t fit, so he sits above the band on a wooden plywood walkway the actors use to cross backstage.

“I have to keep moving in and out of the way, kneeling, standing to the side and sitting,” said Callas, who wears knee pads during his backstage dance.

It’s so cramped, there was no room for music stands. So Callas built wooden frames that are nailed to the wall and walkway railings.

Despite the overcrowding, the music is amazing, said Callas.

“It’s the most complex music I’ve ever been involved with, and I’ve been doing musicals for over 30 years — people will be blown away.”

There are jazzy pieces, gospel songs, big show tunes and love songs, he said.

It has a bit of everything.

Some songs have nine different vocal parts all being sung simultaneously, he added.

It’s not mainstream music, there’re lots of discordant parts that really stretch people’s range, said Epstein.

And the music is not the only thing that’s edgy.

Urinetown is a musical about … yup, good guess, pee.

“But you’re not supposed to like the title,” said Epstein.

“The play makes fun of its own subject matter and its bad title; that’s part of the fun of the show, it pokes fun at musical theatre’s conventions.”

The story takes place in “a town you might find in any musical production,” according to the play’s narrator Officer Lockstock.

In this nondescript town, there’s a serious water shortage.

To conserve water the Urine Good Company has imposed a tax on toilet flushes.

“So, you have to pay to pee,” said Epstein.

The story follows the rebellion that ensues when residents decide to liberate the toilets of the land.

“It sounds like fairly disgusting subject, but it’s not offensive and it’s dealt with comically,” said Epstein.

And the story’s based on a severe ecological disaster, something that’s not too far fetched these days.

Epstein chose not to stage the production in the Yukon Arts Centre because, as a new musical with edgy subject matter, he feared it would prove difficult to market.

And he likes the intimacy the Guild offers.

Urinetown was also supposed to be the last hurrah in the Guild’s old theatre space. But now, funding uncertainties have pushed the Guild’s planned expansion into the indeterminate future.

“We’ve done a number of musicals in the Guild, but nothing this sophisticated or elaborate,” he said.

“It’s the biggest show we’ve done here.”

Just before it’s Broadway premiere, Urinetown planned a press night for September 11th, 2001.

Needless to say, it didn’t happen.

But after pleas from New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, the musicals were up and running within several days.

And Urinetown was a big success, because it made people laugh when they really needed to, said Epstein.

The rights for the musical were not available until this year, and productions have already been staged in Toronto and Vancouver.

Epstein has been rehearsing with the cast since the middle of January.

Because New York choreographer Lisa Stevens wasn’t available till the end of March, Epstein approached rehearsals in a round-about way.

“We did all the staging, acting and singing without the choreography,” he said.

“Then Lisa had just over a week to put it all together. So, the cast had lots thrown at them, and sometimes it was pretty overwhelming.”

And in the last few weeks, sickness has been wreaking havoc on the cast.

But Epstein is pleased with how it’s all come together.

It’s a huge production, but there’s simplicity to it, he said. It’s like a fable.

It’s good fighting evil, but the villain is also pragmatic.

There are no simplistic solutions to the problems posed by the show, he said.

Urinetown previews tonight at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5.

It runs Tuesday through Saturday until May 6th beginning at 8 p.m. On April 22nd and on May 5th and 6th the evening shows begin at 11 p.m.

“It’s a funky show, and we wanted to offer people the chance to have a late dinner then come out to Urinetown,” explained producer Stephen Dunbar-Edge.

There are 2 p.m. matinees April 29th and May 6th.

Tuesday to Thursday, and matinees, tickets are $18; students and seniors pay $15. Friday and Saturday shows are $22 and $18 respectively.

There’s a pay-what-you-can on April 25th.