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Q&A: "Urinetown" director Danielle Howard

Danielle Howard is a Master of Fine Arts directing student in the Department of Theatre and Drama at Indiana University Bloomington. She speaks to "Live at IU" about the department's upcoming production of Urinetown: The Musical, which she is directing for her master's thesis.

Danielle Howard image

Danielle Howard

Winner of three 2002 Tony Awards, including "Best Original Score" and "Best Book of a Musical," Urinetown opens in the Wells-Metz Theatre on Friday (Oct. 20) at 7:30 p.m. and continues on Saturday (Oct. 21) and Oct. 23 to 28. A joyous, funny and cynical musical, set in a world where water depletion has made the "privilege to pee" an expensive proposition, Urinetown pits the forces of good against evil, the will of the people against big business and bladder control against perjury.

In the interview, Howard discusses how much of a privilege it is to direct Urinetown and work with such distinguished collaborators as IU professor and Tony-nominated choreographer George Pinney. She also tells audiences why they should rush to see Urinetown.


Joanne Dubach as Little Sally and Kevin Anderson as Officer Lockstock in "Urinetown: the Musical" at the Wells-Metz Theatre.

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LIU: Is it safe to assume that Urinetown is the ideal musical for a university production (and not just because there are plenty of pee jokes)?

DH: Yes, it is VERY funny, but it's also very smart, and darkly satirical. And at its heart, it poses some serious questions about society and the future of our world.

LIU: When it premiered on Broadway, Urinetown made a splash (no pun intended) because of its overall irreverence, wackiness and absurdity, as well as its satiric analysis of corporate greed and corruption. Why should audience see it? And what lessons, if any, should they take from this production?

DH: This show has a lot to offer. Most audience members will recognize it as a musical, but it takes our expectations and gives them a twist. It has a fantastic musical score, a very smart script, and it is incredibly funny. It's filled with moments of musical parody, but there is also a darkly satiric side to the piece.

I was drawn to how the piece plays with musical theatre convention -- embracing it while exposing its often absurd oversimplification of life. But it does so while being an exemplary model of a really good musical, musically and structurally. The play is very self-aware -- very Brechtian. It sees itself as a very serious musical -- about pee.

LIU: What specific challenges does this show present to the director? Cast?

DH: Comedy and the musical are unforgiving forms -- both demand a high level of talent and precision. Unlike your good old-fashioned musical, there really is no "chorus" in this show. This show demands a strong ensemble of 16 actor/singer/dancers -- no one hides in the background.

I've been lucky to work with such a talented and dedicated group of actor/singers. Also, the piece is very self-aware, but the piece is not merely spoof. In order for it to work, I think, the characters must take their world and their plight very seriously -- that's tough to do sometimes when you're singing about pee.

LIU: You have brought together a highly distinguished creative team for this production, including (lighting designer) Robert Shakespeare and (Tony-nominated choreographer) George Pinney. How has it been working with them and what have you learned from them?


Michael E. Hall as Senator Fipp, Jonathan Davidson as Caldwell B. Cladwell, Lucas Thompson as Mr. McQueen and Anna Malone as Hope Cladwell in "Urinetown: the Musical" at the Wells-Metz Theatre.

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DH: Directing a musical can be a hefty undertaking because of all of the components and complexities involved. I have been incredibly lucky to have such a strong, collaborative creative team working with me on this production.

Rob, Fred, and Angie have created a very exciting visual world for the play [Rob Shakespeare, lights; Fred Duer, scenic design; Angie Burkhardt, costume design]. George has been such a mentor on this project, as well as a supportive collaborator as choreographer.

LIU: Will you be any more nervous knowing that this is your M.F.A. thesis show?

DH: I don't think so. When you spend months preparing a production, weeks of rehearsal building and shaping it, pouring in hours of dedication to create something that is not complete until that last person at the table arrives -- the audience and they arrive -- I think you are always a little nervous. Thesis or not, it is a theatre experience you are creating first.

LIU: Now that your career has gone in the toilet -- in a good way! -- what's next for you?

DH: Well, I've still got another semester and a half to complete my M.F.A. After that, I will go where the work is -- ideally directing regionally on the east coast.

LIU: Thanks, Danielle.