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Just a little time to learn their lines

A teenage cast had four weeks to perfect Urinetown as part a summer theater program.

Published June 29, 2006


Here's the challenge: Select 23 teenage actors from dozens who audition. Help them stage a sophisticated Broadway musical with a serious political message just beneath its humorous surface.

Get them to learn their lines and remember where they should be on stage at every moment of the two-act show, and teach some of them to sing in difficult Beach Boys-style four-part harmony.

And do all of this in four weeks.

The 14- to 18-year-olds in the Palladium Theater Summer Conservancy are working hard to polish their singing and acting skills as they prepare to perform Urinetown: The Musical on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"It's baptism by fire," said director Keven Renken, the theater department chairman at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High. "They have to get a lot done fast, so they have to stay on task."

Urinetown is about the residents of a drought-ridden town where water is so precious that private toilets have been outlawed, and the Urine Good Company charges people a fee to pee. Corrupt lawmakers have made it illegal to urinate outdoors, so citizens have no choice but to pay ever-increasing fees to use the company's facilities.

Frustrations eventually overflow as the citizens express their outrage by singing It's a Privilege to Pee. And when they finally rebel, Run Freedom Run becomes their battle cry.

Despite the offbeat subject matter, Urinetown won three Tony Awards in 2002 for best director, best original score and best book of a musical.

Still, Renken said some Palladium board members seemed a little taken aback when the musical was proposed for the Summer Conservancy. And when the students passed out fliers at BayWalk boldly emblazoned with the title of the show, "some people wouldn't take them."

Preparing the musical with just four weeks of rehearsal has been a big challenge for the students, according to Renken.

"We always hope they go home and work some more on their own," he said.

But they've had help.

Music director Karen Bail, who also teaches at PCCA, has helped the cast members learn 18 songs, with music provided by an onstage band. Choreographer Michael Vasallo, who teaches drama at St. Petersburg High School, has kept the unusually large cast moving fluidly on the Palladium's compact stage.

Rehearsals, formerly four hours a day, have increased to six as opening night looms, but Renken is confident the show will come together.

"They've all acted before," he said, "and I know a lot of the kids from PCCA, so there's a built-in comfort level. I don't have to build a working relationship with them. It's already there."

*   *   *

Urinetown is at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students 18 and younger. (727) 822-3590 or

[Last modified June 28, 2006, 12:22:38]

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