There was a rumor that this year's musical at Free State High School would be "Grease." When theater instructor Nancee Beilgard announced that it actually would be "Urinetown," the students were disappointed - at first.
That's because most of them didn't know much about the show, which opened off-Broadway in 2001 and went on to win three Tony Awards the following year.
"It's a funny, funny show," Beilgard says. "The first time I saw it, I laughed until I cried."
The students had the same reaction when they finally read the script. Suddenly, "Grease" wasn't the word. It was time to tinkle - or not, as the case may be.
You see, "Urinetown" is set in a community plagued by a 20-year drought, where water has become so scarce that private toilets have become unthinkable. At the mercy of a single dominating corporation - dubbed Urine Good Company - that maintains a monopoly on the town's public amenities, the destitute citizens must pay taxes and fines to carry out their most private and basic of needs. In other words, they have to pay to pee.
Out of the mass of the pitiable, a hero rises to lead his fellow citizens against the tyrannical regime.
Beilgard selected "Urinetown," in part, for its structure, which prominently features a large chorus, offering substantial opportunities for more than just a few leading actors. Close to 40 students make up the cast, performing numbers such as "Privilege to Pee," "Run, Freedom, Run!" and "I See a River."
Beilgard also wanted to break the Rodgers and Hammerstein mold of high school musicals.
"I wanted the kids to do something really different," she says. "We're getting a lot of attention from other school districts."
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday in the auditorium at Free State High School, 4700 Overland Drive. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at the door, or in advance from the school's finance office and both Hy-Vee stores, 4000 W. Sixth St. and 3504 Clinton Parkway.