PAUL SOLMAN: One of the hottest and oddest shows on Broadway. The perversely titled "Urinetown."
ACTORS AND ACTRESSES: Urine town this is urine town we'll keep that dough.
PAUL SOLMAN: The success seems almost preposterous given its preposterous premise that the world running out of water, turns to the company Urinegood company forcing folks to ante up to, pay to pee.
CHILD: And you can't just go in the bushes; there's laws against it.
OFFICER: That's why Sally is counting her pennies.
CHILD: I'm very close, officer. Only a few pennies away.
OFFICER: Aren't we all, little sally, aren't we all.
PAUL SOLMAN: Producer Michael David.
MICHAEL DAVID: It's about a town with a water shortage, and a multibillion dollar conglomerate that takes advantage of the shortage by feeding off the little man, the little person. It's also about having a wonderful time with Broadway references on stage.
PAUL SOLMAN: The Broadway musical references come fast and furious. Take offs on everything from Fosse to Fiddler.
PAUL SOLMAN: Three penny opera.
SINGER: I'm a business gal, you see I sell the privilege to pee.
PAUL SOLMAN: "Les Mis."
SINGER: From every hill every steeple
PAUL SOLMAN: But the show never dances far from its deep, dark theme. That the end is near. In plots terms you, water is running so low, if you haven't got the tin to tinkle, you get dumped. Playwright Greg Kotis, 36-year-old political science from the University of Chicago and Improv Theater got the idea in 1995, when he ran out of money touring Europe.
GREG KOTIS, Playwright: They had the pay per use toilets. Whether to use them was a big issue for me. Hi to part with the 70 cents. I wouldn't go into the bushes because I was too timid. And when I went to the cafes, they would kick me out unless I bought something, and that would be more expensive.
PAUL SOLMAN: Amid such prevails the muse suddenly and improbably descended.
ACTRESS: This man ain't comin' in without payin', not this time.
GREG KOTIS: And the idea sort of popped into my head in a world where the public amenities controlled by one sort of malevolent corporation, sort of a like a turn of the century Carnegie-style corporation, they're rich. They have this influence and with the money they buy the politicians to make sure that everyone goes to their amenities. I thought this is a terrible idea for a show. It's so bad that it's, maybe it could be really good.
PAUL SOLMAN: Urinetown began as a satire of capitalist indifference - the CEO, a self-maximizing monster
SINGER: A little bunny in the meadow in the grass without a care he's so delightful as he hops through you say hi bunny and he stops you pull his trigger and he stops for you. Good-bye bunny boo, hello rabbit stew.
PAUL SOLMAN: John Cullum paying the evil monopolist, Caldwell Teed Cladwell.
JOHN CULLUM, Actor: Don't be the bunny. There are so many fun things and so many evil things in it, too. Obviously he's saying, crush them, squeeze them to death, kill them. Eat them.
SINGERS: You are from Mr. Strong you and your socialistic throng
PAUL SOLMAN: Despite the rationale, only the market can ration a precious resource like water, Cullum's character clearly earns his fate being pushed from a rooftop. Producer Michael David is a tough minded businessman but--.
MICAHEL DAVID: I'd push him off, too. But do appreciate that somehow behind the nefarious spin he gave to a problem, there is a problem, and he noted the problem.
PAUL SOLMAN: On the other hand, says this musical, the antidote for kill the bunny businessmen may be even worse than the poison because in the musical's second act, the revolutionaries prevail led by idealist Billy Strong and the new love of his life, Cladwell's daughter hope. The rebels are hopeful all right but also bumbling, bloodthirsty and politically naive. Composer lyricist Mark Hollman also hails from the Univ. of Chicago.
MARK HOLLMAN, Composer: I think I started out in my high school and college years very much siding with this show. The capitalism was bad and in fact at one time I was a social democrat. But then as I've gotten older, I've just found that I've become more and more conservative in my views.
So I actually-- I really don't think capitalism is bad, and I actually take some pleasure in what a couple of conservative friends of mine call the neo--con ending of this show, which is that, you know, the liberal do gooders out there, they actually, when you put them in power, they don't know what to do and they actually mess things up.
WOMAN: If only I had a cool tall glass of water, maybe I'd have a fighting chance.
WOMAN: But don't you see, Mrs. Strong, the glass of water is inside you.
PAUL SOLMAN: By the end of the show, urine town's revolutionaries have not only flushed idealism down the drain. Their reign of error, just as a neo conservative might predict, brings on ecological disaster.
ACTRESS: Oops. Oops, we ran out of water. Shucks.
PAUL SOLMAN: Spencer Kayden plays the show's street urchin, little sally whose message of love and understanding seems, for a while, that it might save the day.
SPENCER KAYDEN, Actress: You think everything is on course for a happy ending and it bashes it down. Maybe the bad guy wasn't that bad and maybe the good guys don't end up being that good and we're left with not an easy answer for what a solution is.
PAUL SOLMAN: When it comes to the traditional economic solutions then, the attitude of this show is a plague on both your houses. And the author seems to have written a tune for the times.
GREG KOTIS: We know that revolution, you know, pick one. The Bolsheviks or Castro in Cuba or, you know, pick any of them and they start with a wonderful exuberant, romantic hope. And they lead to disaster. But at the same time, like the older, you know, systems, our system, where there's an elite at the top, they're also leading us to disaster but maybe at a slower pace or maybe they really know what they're doing or maybe they don't know what they're doing.
And so as far as a message, I think of it more in terms of how much time do we have time as a society? Is it 20 years, is it two generations? And the way we consume things and the way we produce things and the way that we build our cities and the way that we consume our resources, in the way that we treat the high and the low in this country, in the way that we treat the low around the world.
SINGERS: Rowing for freedom
PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, Urinetown seems so over the top, its fluky appeal may lie in its real world resonance. With the current drought in the northeast, for instance.
SPENCER KAYDEN: Somebody recently asked me, you guys must be really happy that there's a drought. Yeah, we love the drought.
PAUL SOLMAN: The show's top topical topic though may be its take on business ethics. Initially that's what peaked our interest, CEO Cladwell as a stand-in for Enron.
ACTOR: Give me the puppy, give me the shoe the one who steps is you
PAUL SOLMAN: Caught up trying to describe Enron's escapades, however, we could never find room for the bunny routine in any of our stories. The more details came to light, however, the more timely Urinetown seemed, and not just to us.
GREG KOTIS: I got phone calls saying, your show is all about these things. You're, what do you call it?
PAUL SOLMAN: Prescient.
GREG KOTIS: My responsibility-- prescient. I said not really. If you read the newspaper, Enron is the latest example of what has been happening always.
ACTOR: Run away--.
PAUL SOLMAN: But says author Greg Kotis, "Urinetown's" doomsday scenario should serve as a wakeup call.
GREG KOTIS: You say to yourself, no, the end is not coming and what am I going to do about it to keep that from happening? So people leave the show inspired to sort of, to confound that prediction.
PAUL SOLMAN: If anyone voices that sentiment in "Urinetown", it's Spencer Kayden's character, little Sally.
ACTOR: Not that girl. Killing people is wrong.
PAUL SOLMAN: But Kayden herself is as skeptical as anyone.
SPENCER KAYDEN: I think that little Sally believes if everyone loved each other, we wouldn't have these problems. What about this. Wouldn't that be sweet? Nah, it doesn't work that way.
SALLY: What kind of musical is this? The good guys finally take over and then everything starts falling apart?
OFFICER: Well, like I told you little Sally. This isn't a happy musical.
SALLY: But the music is so happy.
OFFICER: Yes, Little Sally, yes, it is. ( Laughter )
SINGERS: On with the show
PAUL SOLMAN: The music is so happy, and so is the ensemble of the think darkly musical "Urinetown" nominated for ten Tony awards.