(Excerpted from Greg Kotis’ introduction to URINETOWN: The Musical)
The idea for URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL first came to me during what might generously be described as a poorly planned trip to Europe during the late winter/early spring of 1995. On our return flight, I decided to extend an overnight layover in Paris to spend two weeks bumming around Western Europe by myself, to see the sights, and also try to decide whether I would propose to my girlfriend. For some reason, I thought $300 would cover my expenses, and …I ran out of money almost immediately. What I had intended to be a meditative, economy-style backpacker excursion through the capitals of France, Germany, England, and Spain quickly devolved into a grim test of endurance, (with) the defining question … “How can I not spend any money until I can reclaim my ticket to the States and go home?” For me, the answer involved sleeping in the train stations, eating cheap but belly-filling foods, and, strangely enough, avoiding going to the bathroom as much as possible.
I stood there on the sidewalk for a moment or two, thinking the thing through. The notion seemed like a patently awful one, grand and ridiculous, a career (such as it was) ending embarrassment. And yet, at its core, it would also be a grand, ridiculous reflection of the world as we know it to be, complete with rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, a government controlled by industry and an industry that exists apart from and above us all. And driving it all would be the disaster, in this case the drought, a fact that trumped all the other facts: the love, the rage, the greed, everything. It would be a musical, yes, a very big musical, and it would be called URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL. It might not be performed, but it would be called URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL, and it would take place in a town where everybody had to pay to pee.
Such is the thinking that comes from being too homesick, too broke, and too full of belly-filling foods, while inhibiting natural bodily functions for too long. Public bathrooms in Europe are pay-per-use. Some are old buildings in parks complete with towel-distributing attendants; some are state-of-the-art, self-cleaning, toilet-pods set proudly near city crossroads. Each involves a fee of some kind, some more expensive than others, all the time prohibitive to me… And so it was that on one particularly cold, rainy afternoon in Paris, while I was making my way past the Luxembourg Gardens, trying to determine how badly I needed to go to the bathroom … that the notion of a city where all the public amenities in town were controlled by a single, malevolent, monopolizing corporation came to me. And not only would the corporation control all the public bathrooms but, being malevolent and monopolizing, it would somehow ensure the prohibition of private toilets, thus guaranteeing a steady flow of customers to its overpriced comfort stations.
With its wealth and influence on the rise, it would pay off politicians and police, outlaw going in the bushes (and between parked cars), and generally employ all available tools of persuasion to maintain its hammerlock on power. At its head would be an evil capitalist genius controlling the world from behind his corporate desk. But would he really be so evil? For the world he was controlling was suffering from a nearly uncontrollable ecological disaster – a drought that, at the beginning of our story, had already entered its twentieth year.