The Henry Miller Theatre
124 West 43rd Street
Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollmann
Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotis
Price range $35 - $85
Potomac Stages Broadway
A highly stylized put-on with energy, verve, a wonderful sense of whimsy and a consistently inventive imagination, the new musical with the title that every one of its major characters says is awful, Urinetown is a delightful ride for those who can get into the spirit of the thing and who enjoy a distinctly off-beat humor.
Storyline: In a future where a draught has made private toilets unthinkable and a mega-corporation has a monopoly on pay toilets, a group of underprivileged stage a revolution. They take the evil monopolist’s daughter hostage but she ends up as their leader when she recognizes the people’s “Right to Pee.”
At heart, Urinetown is a very affectionate tribute to the genre of musical theater which proves once again the old adage that a musical can tell any story if it is done well. It observes all the rules of the form while making affectionate fun of them. What more could you expect of a show that begins with a narrator (the wonderfully prototypical Jeff McCarthy) saying "Welcome to Urinetown - not the place, of course. The musical" and has him set out show's "central conceit" in a discussion of how much "exposition" a show's first scene can contain. If that sounds suspiciously like the jargon you might find at a workshop on how to write a musical, it may be because co-lyricist Mark Hollmann attended the legendary BMI - Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop where such things are studied.
Having set up a truly bizarre concept, the very tightly constructed book by Hollman’s colleague Greg Kotis carries the set-up to its logical conclusion while using the many logically identified song spots for individual parodies of some of the most identifiable moments in the history of Broadway musicals. When the downtrodden rise up in revolution out come banners a-la Le Mis. Many times the references come in combination as the rumble-ish dance in the second act seems to put West Side Story’s finger-snapping kids in Guys and Doll’s sewer.
John Collum plays the megalomaniac monopolist with glorious glee. He throws himself into a twisted pastiche of every “good advice” song called “Don’t Be the Bunny” with a devilish gleam in his eye that takes the audience into the joke and, at the same time, says “watch what I can do with this!”
It is all fabulous fun but not everyone in the small Henry Miller Theater seemed to join in the fun. Some seemed put off by the unorthodox story even though it is very light on any actually objectionable material – no “gross out” this! Others may have understood the jokes but simply didn’t find them funny. But the buzz among the departing audience was highly positive. If your sense of humor runs to the bizarre and you treasure the great traditions of musical theater, this show should be on your must-see list this season.