Metro-East Living

You can watch these actors fight for the right — to use the bathroom

Nico Bourgeais, left to right, Mark Neels (top of steps), Katie Landsbaum, Tim Kaniecki, Lauren Berkowitz, Ashley Netzhammer and Kaycee Warner rehearse a scene from “Urinetown: The Musical,” which will be performed Feb. 23-25 and March 3-4 at Lindenwood University in Belleville.
Nico Bourgeais, left to right, Mark Neels (top of steps), Katie Landsbaum, Tim Kaniecki, Lauren Berkowitz, Ashley Netzhammer and Kaycee Warner rehearse a scene from “Urinetown: The Musical,” which will be performed Feb. 23-25 and March 3-4 at Lindenwood University in Belleville.

Ray Hollmann will see “Urinetown” for the 13th time this weekend, when Lindenwood University in Belleville stages the Broadway musical about a community fighting for bathroom rights. It will be the 12th time for his wife, Juanita.

The Fairview Heights couple never get tired of supporting their son, Mark Hollmann, who wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics.

One of their proudest moments was in 2002, when Mark won the Tony Award for Best Original Score, beating out big names such as Marvin Hamlisch and Harry Connick Jr. Ray and Juanita were sitting in the audience.

“I jumped up out of my seat,” said Ray, 86, a retired English teacher at O’Fallon Township High School. “The guy in front of me ... I nearly knocked his head off.”

“Urinetown: The Musical” is a comedy that satirizes the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement and municipal politics.

It earned three Tonys. Greg Kotis, Mark’s longtime friend and collaborator, won for Best Book of a Musical, and director John Rando won for Best Direction of a Musical.

I jumped up out of my seat. The guy in front of me ... I nearly knocked his head off.

Ray Hollman on hearing that his son won a Tony Award

The story is set in a futuristic city dealing with a drought-induced water shortage. Officials outlaw the use of private toilets and force people to use public pay toilets owned and operated by Urine Good Company.

Lawbreakers are hauled to a penal colony known as Urinetown with all the other criminals.

“This topical show explores what happens when governments and corporate fat cats start to legislate their way into our bathrooms,” according to publicity. “Join Bobby Strong as he fights ... to prove that everyone deserves the right to pee!”

The musical has been performed at the Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, but not in Belleville.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23-25 and March 3-4 in the Lindenwood auditorium. Tickets are $10 for adults or $5 for students and senior citizens at the door.

Mark, 53, graduated from Belleville East High School in 1981. Lindenwood occupies the old Belleville West campus, where he competed on speech and debate teams.

“I’m thrilled that (“Urinetown” is) being performed in Belleville,” he said by telephone from his home in New York City. “That’s where I spent my formative years.”

The story has a deeper meaning than the title. It’s about rebellion, revolution and sustainable life. It’s just really, really interesting.

Sebastian Wegner on the play’s message

The local cast of 23 people includes college students and community members. It’s being directed by Nick Moramarco, assistant theater professor at Lindenwood.

The election of Donald Trump as president has boosted interest in the production, perhaps because of its dystopian themes and Trump’s corporate background. But that’s not why Nick picked it last year.

“It’s a hilarious show and a little bit dark, and I like dark comedy,” he said.

The leads are Lauren Berkowitz as Penelope Pennywise, who oversees the public toilet; Katie Landsbaum as Hope Cladwell, daughter of the villainous company head; Ethan Edwards as Joseph “Old Man” Strong, one of the first lawbreakers arrested; and Sebastian Wegner as Officer Lockstock.

Sebastian is a senior from Germany attending Lindenwood on a swimming scholarship and studying theater. His character is the narrator in Act I and a policeman in Act II.

“(The show is) amazing,” he said. “The music is just wonderful. I love it. And the story has a deeper meaning than the title. It’s about rebellion, revolution and sustainable life. It’s just really, really interesting.”

Mark’s first job was ushering at the old Ritz Theater in Belleville. He also read to the blind and sang in the choir at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.

Mark left Fairview Heights to study political science at University of Chicago, but he switched to music and performed in college productions. After graduation, he helped form a small theater company, played trombone in a band and played piano for The Second City touring company and Chicago City Limits improv group.

Mark moved to New York in 1993 but stayed connected with Chicago friends, collaborating with Jack Helbig on “The Girl, the Grouch and the Goat” and Greg on “Urinetown.” The latter grew out of Greg’s experience with pay toilets on a European trip.

“Mark had to spend $5,000 of his own money (to get it produced),” his father said. “Nobody else would touch it. I don’t know how many things they sent out, and everybody turned it down.”

The musical played off-Broadway for about two months in the spring of 2001. Ray drove to New York to see it.

We didn’t expect it to go anywhere beyond an auto garage that had been turned into a theater on Stanton Street in Lower Manhattan.

Mark Hollman on expectations for “Urinetown”

The Broadway opening was Sept. 20, 2001, at Henry Miller’s Theatre. The show earned 10 Tony nominations and ran through Jan. 18, 2004, with a total of 25 previews and 965 performances.

It was then licensed for amateur and stock theater, making way for more than 4,000 productions all across the country in the past 10 years.

“It’s hard to believe,” Mark said. “We wrote it on a lark, really. We didn’t expect it to go anywhere beyond an auto garage that had been turned into a theater on Stanton Street in Lower Manhattan.”

Mark lives in New York with his wife, Jilly, a seamstress, artist and designer with her own gift line; and their sons, Oliver, 11, and Tucker, 6. Mark has two sisters, Jan Smith, of Arlington Heights, and Amy Miller, of Houston.

After “Urinetown,” Mark and Greg wrote “Yeast Nation (the Triumph of Life),” which opened in 2007 in Juneau, Alaska. It has played in several U.S. cities and is coming to New Line Theatre in St. Louis next year.

“Our current project is creating a musical based on the movie ‘The Sting’ from 1973,” Mark said.

Teri Maddox: 618-239-2473, @BNDwriter

At a glance

  • What: “Urinetown: The Musical”
  • Where: Lindenwood University, 2600 W. Main St. in Belleville
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23-25 and March 3-4
  • Admission: $10 for adults or $5 for students and senior citizens (no reserved seating)
  • Tickets: At the door
  • Information: Call director Nick Moramarco at 618-239-6226
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