It was a snowy Sunday afternoon in December of 2005, and brand new Portland company Stumptown Stages was staging their first ever production at the IFCC. The show was the soaring, hilarious, beautifully klezmer-inflected URINETOWN by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis.
Aside from the marvelous production, I remember one unusual detail. After a single viewing, I left the show with total recall of every song (music and lyrics). I went home singing “This is Urinetown! Your tickets should say Urinetown!”, “Worthy of a gurney”, “Look at the sky”, “Follow your heart” (listen to those first three notes once, and you’ve got it) – and so many others. And pretty much have continued to sing them ever since. Though the ol’ memory has gotten a little dinged up, I can still summon up individual performers belting out one classic or another. Lori Paschall, anyone? Who needs amplification! Incredible.
I contrast this experience to so many other current musicals where remembering the song or lyric while the song is still playing is hard enough, not to mention the next day.
How is it possible that a two hour exposure to URINETOWN was sufficient to commit the entire score to memory? It’s possible because the writing is that good. That’s how it has to be with the musical craft. The music and lyrics weld together into an unforgettable hook that also transports you. If successful, a song from a musical lodges in your brain where it continues to play, zombie like, for months or years. You are powerless to resist.
Whereas without that spark to infect the audience, no amount of notes and words will raise the pulse. Or be remembered.