Through May 5, University Theatre's Mitchell Theatre
Urinetown, the Tony-winning musical with the scatological name, has finally made its Madison premiere. Whether or not you're squeamish about bodily functions - or Broadway musicals, for that matter - University Theatre's topnotch production deserves a chance. Theatergoers who enjoyed the corporate satire and zany musical numbers of the local hit Walmartopia will almost surely enjoy the humor and social message of Urinetown.
Urinetown presents a dystopian future in which drought has made water a precious commodity and private toilets have been outlawed. To heed the call of nature, citizens must do their business at public "amenities" that have been privatized under the control of the punningly named Urine Good Co. Downtrodden, ragtag citizens balk at collecting their pennies to take care of a basic need.
Although this is a future-gone-wrong, we know we've been here before. From the characters to the costumes they wear (wonderfully designed by Gail Brassard), we're presented with references to the "real" past (the Depression years of the 1930s) as well as the history of musical theater. With stock names like Little Sally and Officer Lockstock, Urinetown spoofs classic musicals like Oliver! and Les Miserables even as it skewers corporate greed and America's appetite for overconsumption. Urinetown creators Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis give it all a cheeky, postmodern spin, as Little Sally and Officer Lockstock comment on the play itself.
While the humor is often more flippant and goofy than truly trenchant, that's all right. A musical like Urinetown is unlikely to sway adults who are not already concerned about constrained natural resources. However, for middle-schoolers or high-schoolers, it could be the springboard for a meaningful discussion. In fact, Stevens Point Area High School was slated to perform the show until the local superintendent put the kibosh on it, presumably because of the off-color title. And that's a shame - while this is an irreverent, fun show with a bit of potty humor, there's nothing "dirty" about it, and the instances of implied violence are tamer than most of what's on TV these days.
Luckily for us, University Theatre's production is a success on all levels, from a winning cast to a splendid, multilevel set designed by Michele Fields to Holly Blomquist's lighting design. Director and choreographer Pam Kriger helms a witty, energetic production.
While it's hard to single out individual performers in a strong ensemble cast, Meghan Deese strikes the right balance as the daughter of the villainous Urine Good Co. president; she camps up the naive ingenue role without going overboard. Steve Wojtas as Officer Lockstock brings an ironic touch to the unsentimental policeman/ narrator. Clare Arena Haden belts out a terrific number as Penelope Pennywise, the tough-as-nails manager of the dirtiest urinal in town.
A fitting show to open on Earth Day weekend, Urinetown comically jabs the world we live in, the world of musical theater and, ultimately, all of us.