CHAMPAIGN — Cullyn Murphy was quite close to his aunt Kathy Murphy, a co-founder of the Champaign Urbana Theatre Company.
In fact, theater is what brought them together.
"I was involved in a lot of CUTC shows growing up," he said. "She would drive me to rehearsals, back and forth. Often she was involved in the shows, too, or would help me out."
Ms. Murphy, who died in 2009, also took her nephew to see shows at the Station Theatre and elsewhere, and she taught him many life lessons, mainly via theater.
"She had just a vibrant love of theater," he said.
So it's no wonder that the 20-year-old loves it, too, and remains involved as much as possible in the art form, as well as others.
He is now music director for CUTC's eighth annual Kathy Murphy Student Production, of the musical "Urinetown," opening tonight at the Parkland College Theatre.
The 2011 graduate of Champaign Central High has concentrated on music rather than acting in recent years. He is majoring in music education, with a focus on choral education, and music composition at Illinois State University, where he's an incoming junior.
He hopes to eventually write musical theater pieces, particularly for the high school level, where he one day hopes to teach.
"It seems like a whole new world for me," Murphy said Monday night before a rehearsal of "Urinetown" at Parkland Theatre. "I've been acting and performing since I was 5, and the last few years when I was 17 and 18 and in high school I found I really enjoyed being a leader."
Now Murphy would rather lead an ensemble from the pit rather than be on stage — unless it's a show he really wants to act in.
With "Urinetown," Murphy directs an ensemble of five musicians. He jokes that he can be seen easily in the pit because he is 6-foot-4 (and lean).
He won't double up and play an instrument for "Urinetown," but he does play piano and has been the rehearsal accompanist for the musical, which features Max Keagle and bass-baritone Janjay Knowlden sharing the role of Officer Lockstock, the cop in charge of finding guilty pee-ers.
Murphy has played trombone too but considers himself primarily a vocalist with a baritone-tenor range.
At ISU he is president of Acafellaz, a 12-member a cappella group. He's also president of an organization for student composers and treasurer of the ISU chapter of the American Choral Directors' Association.
"I try to be as involved as possible," he said.
He also hopes to write, with another student, an original musical theater piece to be presented late in the fall at ISU as part of the university's FreeStage production program for students. He plans to teach private voice and piano lessons to middle school students in Bloomington-Normal.
In addition, he will commute to Urbana starting this fall to be music director of musicals at Urbana High, where Tim Broeker is the drama director. Broeker is directing "Urinetown."
As a senior at Central, Murphy played the male lead, Bobby Strong, in the school's production of "Urinetown." He loves the musical, set in the future, when water is scarce.
"In an attempt to regulate water consumption, Urinetown has outlawed the use of private toilets," reads the synopsis on the official website of the musical. "The citizenry must use public, pay-per-use amenities owned and operated by Urine Good Company, a malevolent corporation run by the corrupt Caldwell B. Cladwell."
"The show is so witty and interesting," Murphy said. "The music is lively and rustic and has a strong character to it. Being a senior when I first did the show, it obviously has a big place in my heart."
He acknowledges that the title makes the musical a hard sell. But he remembers how Central students who didn't usually go to musicals really enjoyed their school's production.
"It makes fun of itself constantly," Murphy said.
To be in the CUTC youth production, students must not be older than 18. The 42-member cast has students of all ages from the area but tips a little toward more high school students, Murphy said.
Among the cast members are his younger siblings, Quinn, 15, and Maeve, 13. Quinn is portraying Bobby, the character his older brother played in high school, and Maeve is Robbie the Stockfish.
But Cullyn said he's never considered the annual Kathy Murphy Student Production a showcase for his family.
It's more of a way to honor his late aunt, who created a community of theater-loving folks in Champaign-Urbana, he said.
If you go
What: The Champaign Urbana Theatre Company's eighth annual Kathy Murphy Student Production of "Urinetown," a musical by composer and lyricist Mark Hollmann and lyricist and librettist Greg Kotis; directed by Tim Broeker, with music direction by Cullyn Murphy
When: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday, Saturday and June 20-22; 2:30 p.m. Sunday and June 23
Where: Parkland College Theatre, 2400 W. Bradley Ave., C
Tickets: $16 for adults; $12 for senior citizens 60 and older and for students through college; $8 for children 12 and younger
Ticket information: 344-3884; http://www.cutc.org ; or buy at the box office one hour before curtain time