Bristol Theatre Company set to make a splash with latest production

Lampooning everything from the legal system, bureaucracy, corporate management, and municipal politics — to musical theater itself — 'Urinetown' has been called 'musical theater at its best.'

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"I have to admit, the timing is good," said director Christopher Crider about the Bristol Theatre Company's upcoming production of Urinetown, a satirical send-up of municipal politics, bureaucratic mismanagement and corporate greed. It's a show that seems tailor-made for the current tumultuous political climate.

But Urintown has been around for a while. It played on Broadway from 2001 through 2004, where it won 3 Tony Awards, 3 Outer Critics Circle Awards, and 2 Obie Awards. Crider, a recent graduate of Stonehill College with a degree in theater and arts management, pitched the show to BTC back in August, well before the election.

"It definitely has political overtones," he said, "and it brings up lots of questions about what happens when government is subservient to corporations. No matter who won the election, it was going to be relevant."

Urinetown is set in small town, USA, where a 20-year drought has caused a water shortage so terrible that the government enforces a ban on the use of private toilets throughout the city, and citizens must now pay to use public facilities which are monopolized by one all-controlling corporation.

"I won't spoil the ending, but there are a lot of laughs and a lot of hopeful idealism," said Crider. "But things don't always work out."

The cast of mostly adults with a handful of high school students comes from as far away as Woonsocket — not surprising given the popularity of this musical among performers, according to Marie Knapman, Chairperson of the BTC Board of Directors. In addition to Crider, the cast is ably managed by music director Mario Sasso, stage manager Audrey Crawley, and choreographer Diane Campagna.

After directing Suessical for the BTC this summer, and having fun with his first-ever experience directing kids, Crider is enjoying this opportunity to work with adults. "With adults you can be more of a true director, and let every actor bring his own twist to their part." Fun is clearly the key for everyone involved — even as rehearsals push into the later hours on these dark February nights, the BTC space at Reynolds is filled with song, and when this crew isn't singing, they are laughing.

Bristol Theatre Company may feel new, but it's not — Bristol has had a community theatre for some 35 years, traditionally performing for 2 consecutive weekends in August at the barn at Roger Williams University. But work on the barn and expansion of the university's theater program several years ago left BTC looking for a new home, which they found at the Reynolds School on High Street, where they are currently midway through a 5-year lease. With a somewhat "permanent" home, they have been able to put together a handful of productions each year, along with a spring cabaret-style fundraiser. Ideally, proceeds from each finances the next.

Still, expenses can mount, with Knapman citing licensing rights, theater lighting, and in summer, the cost of renting an air conditioning unit large enough to make the Reynolds space comfortable for patrons. But as long as ends are met and the next show can go on, that's all that matters to Knapman and the all-volunteer board, cast and crew of BTC. "You don't get involved in this for the money," said Knapman, laughing.

For Crider, who also acts with other local theater companies in the Providence and Boston areas, he hopes that Seussical and Urinetown are just the beginning of an ongoing creative collaboration. "I love BTC," he said. "It's like a family."

Urinetown will be performed Thursday, March 2 through Saturday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. on all three nights. The theater is located at 235 High St. in Bristol, and tickets, which cost $15 or $10 for students and seniors, are available online at at btc-urinetown.brownpapertickets.com. For more information of the Bristol Theatre Company, visit bristoltheatrecompany.org.

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