Malthusianism and Epic Theatre Urinetown as a Prime Example

What is Urinetown?
Urinetown is here!
It’s the “town” wherever
People learn to live in fear

– Lyrics from What is Urinetown

What is Urinetown? Just a silly, nonsensical musical, or is it something much more complex than that? 

Urinetown explores the economic philosophy of a Malthusian society. Malthusian theory, in simple terms, is an economic theory that explains human population grows at a significantly more rapid rate than the production of necessary resources and that the increase of population will decline the quality of human life. We see a perfect example of a Malthusian society in the setting of Urinetown. The story is set in a dystopian future where a water shortage has caused a worldwide crisis. To combat the minute availability of this critical resource, people must pay a fee to use public facilities. This has caused a rift in the socioeconomic structure of society. The rich can obviously afford to use the bathroom whenever the need arises, whereas the poor have to save every last penny in order to tend to their basic human needs. 

Urinetown is also an example of Brechtian “epic theatre.” The Brechtian technique features narrators who often “break the fourth wall” during the story as a way to force the audience to become conscious of the fact that they are watching a play. Brechtian epic theatre is used to cause audiences to think and reflect. The characters of Officer Lockstock and Little Sally are the narrators of Urinetown and have moments where they “break the fourth wall” to engage with the audience.

Urinetown also parodies several well-known musicals. The show features a pair of star-crossed lovers that are clearly a spoof of Tony and Maria from West Side Story. Moments of the rebellion parody Les Miserables and the plot is a clear parody of The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht, the “father” of Brechtian epic theatre. 

Urinetown is a thought-provoking, audience engaging experience under the guise of a silly, satirical musical. 

Urinetown runs September 9th-18th at the Roger T. Sermon Center. Tickets can be purchased in advance through this link-

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