Before the Curtain Opens: GVSU Theater Presents ‘Urinetown: The Musical’

Shelby Pendowski

It begins with a barren stage, a blank canvas ready for transformation. The addition of props, costuming, staging and actors blend together to create the Grand Valley State University production of “Urinetown: The Musical.”

“Urinetown” was created in 2001 and takes on the issue of troubling economics in a satirical way. The production’s song “Urinetown” won three Tony Awards, including Best Original Score.

Dale Schriemer, artistic director of the GVSU Opera Theater, made the decision to produce “Urinetown.”

“We’ve done modern pieces before,” Schriemer said. “We have 23 people onstage…that is the reason to choose the piece because the amount of face time (cast members are) getting. I did want to do a modern comedic piece, so this is very hilarious and silly. We have done a lot of serious pieces in the past, and I thought the winter is so dark; let’s do something more fun.”

After a few days of auditions in September, the choice was made to double cast each lead role. Amanda Furstenberg received the role of Hope, double cast with Cora Papas. This method made preparation that much trickier, Furstenberg said.

“It is always difficult to be double cast because it is less rehearsal time because you are splitting it between the two people,” she said.

Each cast member not only had to memorize lines but also memorize each song and the choreography to go with it.

“This particular production, because there are dance and movements, a lot of time is spent with choreography,” Schriemer said. “And it is real people dancing, not like ballet dancers or jazz dancers; these are like real characters who dance in their character…so all this character work is being built into the choreography, which is an intense amount of work.”

At the start of the winter semester, the cast and crew began to tackle the production by preparing the costumes, sets and staging, and combining the dialogue with the choreography and music.

“We have a working relationship where everyone knows what they are (and) what the expectation is and we work very, very hard to support each other and to make sure those things happen in a good way,” Schriemer said.

Taking the stage in front of the GVSU community isn’t the end of the cast’s preparation. Backstage, the cast is running lines and songs and making sure props are where they need to be in order to perform the best possible show.

“Based on the title, it sounds like a really weird play,” Furstenberg said. “It is written very (smartly) so the words are chosen and there are all of these little jokes and under-terms under everything, and it has a really important message.”

The production is unlike anything the GVSU theater department has put together in the past.

“It is going to be a fun evening in the theater,” Schiemer said. “It is a sly political drama. It is topical and modern.”

The GVSU cast will perform the show Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m., and then Feb. 2 and 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, faculty, staff and alumni, and $6 for students and groups of more than 10.