"Urinetown," a musical spoofing musicals that opens Wednesday at Creighton University, has become a showcase for students who took on advanced responsibilities, while veteran faculty members served as their mentors.
Joe Wright, a senior double major in musical theater and dance, has choreographed the show under the watchful eye of Patrick Roddy, a dance faculty member with Broadway credits in his past.
Patrick Kilcoyne, a student in longtime technical-theater professor Bill Van Deest's scenic-design class, has designed the set for "Urinetown."
The musical is about a town suffering a severe drought. To save water, citizens are required to use public pay toilets only. They protest against the corporate power behind the new law.
The story satirizes the legal system, capitalism, mob rule, bureaucrats, corporate mismanagement and politics while also parodying famous musicals such as "Les Misťrables."
Jake McCoy, another of Van Deest's students, has been mentored in the art of stage managing.
Guest director Leah Arington Grair of Lincoln is showing the ropes to student Carli Haney, her assistant director. Grair and music director Stephen Sheftz are also coaching their cast in the art of musical theater — singing and dancing a song in character, acting the songs as well as the lines.
"The great thing about Creighton is that it's a smaller department," Wright said. "If you're willing to step up and do the work, you can get into leadership roles and collaborate in the process, rather than just being a performer."
Van Deest said the students learn a lot more doing the work, rather than just drawing a design on paper.
"It's all the things you didn't know you needed knowledge about: materials, space, scheduling, costs, time," Van Deest said. "The educational value is huge. It can't happen with every student. They have to be committed, to follow through."
Roddy said his job in helping Wright choreograph was mostly problem-solving, bouncing ideas back and forth, tweaking.
"He has a trained eye, and I trust his viewpoint," Wright said. "Plus he's helped me learn how to work with actors who are not necessarily dancers."
Mentoring, Van Deest said, casts a big safety net as students grow creatively.
Grair said most of her cast are not musical-theater majors, and many are freshmen who look for mentoring in the basic building blocks of performance.
"We've certainly had challenges along the way, but nothing we can't conquer," she said. "It's been a very pleasant, positive experience."
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