30
Aug
12

James Gauci in Urinetown

Urinetown

urinetown

– not the place – the musical –

 

We asked James Gauci to tell us about Urinetown – not the place – the musical!

Look, I have to say that he always reminds me a little bit of Chris Evans Captain America

mercmouth.tumblr.com

…oops, sorry; wrong capture (but thanks mercmouth.tumblr.com for posting that one!).

Captain America Chris Evans

Chris Evans as Captain America in The Avengers

But James Gauci is not out to save the world…just Urinetown.

Urinetown opens tonight!

BOOK HERE

Here we go…

James, for those who don’t make the Schonell Theatre at UQ their regular hangout, can you tell us about Underground Productions’ home and a bit of the company history?

 

Underground recently moved permanently to the Schonell Theatre where they stage limited runs of three shows per year. The Schonell is such a great old theatre… seventies vintage with just over 400 seats and home to some of Brisbane’s best community theatre societies. It also happens to be one of Brisbane’s largest stages – it’s even deeper than QPAC’s Lyric. And it has the famous UQ Pizza Caffe attached. I don’t think casts would eat were it not for that glorious establishment.

Underground Productions is the UQ student theatre company, started in the seventies and run under various names through the years. ‘Underground Productions’ has stuck since 1999. Many famous personalities have come up through their ranks, Bille Brown and Geoffery Rush included. Also, I don’t think there’s been a drama student in Brisbane of the last decade that hasn’t heard of Underground’s (in)famous BUGFest!

I’ve come into contact with the company many times before, with friends appearing in dozens of their shows, but this will be my first time performing with them.

 

We last saw you on this stage as Anthony in Ignatians’ production of Sweeney Todd. What drew you to return, this time with Underground Productions, for Urinetown: The Musical?

 

I’ve been extremely lucky this year – Sweeney and Urinetown are two of my all-time favourites. Urinetown is so intelligent, romantic, self-deprecating, self-referential, dry and darkly comic. It runs the gamut of traditional musical theatre musical styles, it’s simultaneously melodramatic and intrinsically human, and it builds up your hope before unexpectedly smashing it to smithereens in a belted full-cast finale. It’s everything I love in theatre.

 

The last water-wise show we saw in Brisbane was La Boite’s Water Wars. Urinetown is a slightly more satirical look at the extreme end of the spectrum, once the world is depleted of natural resources. Can you tell us about the social messages embedded in Urinetown? How has the company approached them and what are the most poignant messages for us today?

 

Urinetown came into being when the show’s creators, Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, came across a pay-per-use toilet somewhere in France. They took this concept and applied it to the scholar Thomas Robert Malthus’s idea that humanity’s population growth will be checked by famine and disease, eventually reaching a ceiling. A bit of a stretch, yes! But in practical terms, the show’s fictional city has been drought-stricken for twenty years, and this problem has somewhat humourously manifested itself in the central conceit of the show – that it’s a privilege to pee.

Of course, we’re in an age when sustainability is a concept at the forefront of our political and economic discussion – whether it be in terms of the environment, resources, food or water. You’ll come to the realisation that you’re surreptitiously being given a healthy dose of perspective from all angles throughout the show.

However, if you think all that is terribly boring or way over your head, there’s loads of happy music, good versus evil, hilarious comedy and jazz hands everywhere that will make you forget all about it!

 

What were (Director) Lauren Ware’s priorities in the staging and telling of this story?

 

Lauren is an incredibly gifted young performer in her own right. She’s an accomplished dancer and choreographer, a terribly talented comic actress and can blow your socks off with her natural mezzo belt. The best part about this is that she’s so sensitive to the performers themselves whilst illustrating the concept she has for the show. Her priorities have been clean and professional execution of the music, comedy and choreography (I didn’t know my Achilles Tendons could be sore like that…) while maintaining the grounded and honest storytelling that is necessary for the show.

Urinetown is sometimes melodramatic, bordering on pantomime, but always honest. She’s managed to strike the balance extremely well in my opinion.

 

What’s your favourite message in the show?

 

There is so much delightfully meaningful/meaningless rhetoric that comes out of Bobby Strong’s mouth that it’s hard to pin it down to one idea! But I’m a total sap when it comes down to it so I choose ‘follow your heart’. Being true to yourself is all you can really, truly do, and it allows Bobby to live entirely without regret.

Although, as you’ll see, there always consequences to one’s actions… another message that you’ll have to see the show to get!

 

Will we leave the theatre inspired to finally commit to water-saving habits, like turning off the tap when we brush our teeth?

 

Oooh, hard to say. Probably not – the message is a little bit more complex, thankfully – but you should be doing that anyway! You’ll certainly never take a free public toilet for granted ever again.

 

So you turn off the tap when you brush your teeth?

 

Oh yes, absolutely. A combination of good parenting and many years of Sesame Street brainwashing. Youtube ‘Don’t Waste Water’ if you’re ready for a hit of nostalgia.

 

 

The book is pretty wry. At a time when Brisbane is embracing all things meta-theatrical, can you talk about the Brechtian influences of the show and how they have influenced aspects of the show such as design, staging, direction etc? 

 

It’s funny to think of Brecht when looking at Urinetown. All of the elements are there – the broken fourth wall, the minimalistic functional staging, the sensational themes and preposterous prepositions – but it’s not what I’d consider ‘traditionally’ Brechtian, Dialectical, Epic, or whichever term you prefer. For me, instead of being alienated from the action and remembering that I am in fact sitting in a theatre being told a story, I find that I escape into the world, become vastly more invested in the characters, find the comedy that much more hilarious, and the messages hit home much harder. The highs are higher, and the lows are lower.

Brecht may have used narrators and chorus, but he certainly wasn’t one to stage spectacular melodrama! Having said that, I think he would have (possibly secretly) enjoyed Urinetown. 

 

What is it that made this show a Broadway hit?

 

Incredible and deceptively complex music, a spectacularly hilarious and poignant script, and most importantly a totally original idea. Its grassroots origins also helped I think… the show started at an improv group, then went to the New York Theatre Fringe Festival, then Off-Broadway, then Broadway and Tony Awards. It’s the little show that could. And it did!

 

James Gauci Bobby Strong

 

Tell us about Bobby Strong.

 

He’s your textbook hero – a disenfranchised youth, an underdog of society working for ‘the man’ who suddenly has the hopes of an entire community thrust upon him. He loves his family and his friends, but finds it so difficult to reconcile that with his job as an Assistant Custodian of the local Public Amenity where he takes the cash they’ve scraped together just to go to the loo.

His flaw though is his naivety. Sometimes it’s easier to know what’s ‘right’ than what’s ‘best’, but he doesn’t care. Or understand. He’s so adorable.

 

What drives him? Is it the free toilets or is there something more? 

 

It’s so simple to him. He cares so much for the people of his community that he has no choice but to rally them to action. He wants the people to pee for free because the people are free!

 

Have you ever paid to use a toilet in Europe (or do you have a disastrous turnstile-leaping story for us)?

 

Thankfully my stories of toilet tragedy have been few and far between. I think the closest I can gather would be taking a wee as a little kid while standing in a green ants nest. It was only fair – I peed on them, so they peed on me. Difference being that there were hundreds of them. And they pee acid. Yowch.

 

Is there anything else we should know about Urinetown, Underground Productions or what you’re up to next?

 

With Urinetown and Underground fairly covered, next up for me will be Oscar Theatre Company’s Queensland Premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, scheduled for the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC next April. I’m very proud to be working with five of Brisbane’s most insanely talented musical theatre performers. I couldn’t resist seeing the original cast twice when I was visiting Broadway a couple of years ago so I’ll be taking great pleasure in re-creating the roles of Dr Madden and Dr Fine.

Funnily, I think it could be the closest I’ll ever get to actually using my psychology degree.

 

Chookas, James! We hope you enjoy a wonderful season. x

 

Urinetown

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1 Response to “James Gauci in Urinetown”



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