Flush with purpose
An eager cast takes on a big challenge with Urinetown.
By TERRI BRYCE REEVES
Published May 4, 2007
LARGO - Blame the cheeky title.
Ticket sales have been trickling in for Urinetown, the Musical.
"There's a lot of confusion, " said the musical's director, Jason Tucker. "When you tell people about it, they think you're saying, 'You're in Town, ' but then you have to explain that you are literally talking about pee."
What Tucker explains is that the play offers important messages about greed, corruption and limited resources.
"There's no foul language, " he said. "It's not full of sex or violence."
If people can get past the title, Tucker says, they will enjoy a very funny, offbeat show.
But that could be a big if.
Through the Largo Cultural Center and its Eight O'Clock Theatre, Largo has developed reputation for staging vibrant community theater.
On the other hand, this is the town where the recent disclosure that the former city manager was planning a sex change led to a supercharged public debate about gender, religion, discrimination and public service.
The theater's board of directors knew it was taking a risk when it chose the musical.
"The young people were begging us to do it, " said Betsy Byrd, Eight O'Clock Theatre's business manager.
"Our mission is to provide top-quality productions and also to help educate people in the performing arts, " she said. "These kids want to stretch and try new edgy things, and we need to help them do that."
Brent DiRoma, 18, plays hero Bobby Strong. He said the musical's title appealed to him right away.
"My friends laugh when I tell them the name, but I have to explain that it's not all about toilet jokes, " he said.
The high school set may go for it, but Tucker knows that wooing the older crowds, traditionally the biggest fans of Eight O'Clock Theatre, will be tough this time around.
"We'll probably get younger people, but age isn't so important, " he said. "This musical requires an adventuresome audience."
Urinetown is about an ecological disaster of the future. Water becomes so scarce that the government has banned private toilets. The only public toilets are regulated by the Urine Good Company, a malevolent outfit that charges a fee for the "privilege to pee." It's illegal to go outdoors, and those who don't pay, well, they face an ominous future in Urinetown.
The set is dark, cold, foggy and industrial. Yet the musical is uplifting and was well-received on Broadway. Despite its off-putting name, the musical was a hit on Broadway. In 2002, it won a trifecta of Tony awards - Best Book, Score and Direction.
To help boost ticket sales, cast members, many of whom are in high school, have taken to the Web.
"They are posting information on MySpace and sending out e-mails to everyone they know, " Byrd said.
Another reason the board approved Urinetown was that it would be Tucker's last show in the area, Byrd said. The director, a favorite with actors and theater fans, had asked for several years to do the show.
"We knew if anyone could pull if off, Jason could, " she said.
Tucker, 33, has worked with almost every local community theater group and about half of Pinellas County's high schools during the past 15 years. He plans to move his business, LTM Productions, which creates musical aids for the entertainment industry, to the northwestern United States.
He said he's moving with his girlfriend for a "change of pace."
"I just have the urge to go west, " he said.
Rand Smith, 42, who helps narrate the play through the character of Officer Lockstock, said he joined the cast when he heard it was to be Tucker's last show.
"He is a director who can take talent at any level and turn it into something fabulous, " he said. "Everyone wants to be in his shows."
Eight O'Clock Theatre board member Lisa Namm agreed.
"You know when it's a Jason Tucker production, it's going to be great, " she said. "We will certainly miss him."Terri Reeves can be reached at email@example.com.
If you go
What: Eight O'Clock Theatre presents Urinetown, the Musical, at the Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive.
Plot: In a town plagued by drought, water has become so precious that private toilets are outlawed and a monopoly controls access to the commode. Faced with ever-increasing fees to use the facilities, citizens revolt.
Awards: Three Tony awards in 2002, including Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical.
When: Performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees. It runs through May 20.
Tickets: $25 adult, $15 student and $22.50 for groups of 10 or more. Call the Largo Cultural Center Box Office at 727 587-6793 or visit www.ticketmaster.com or www.largoarts.com.