Urinetown | Theater Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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So you want to put on a musical. You'll need one beautiful soprano, a cute tenor, a big chorus and some scenic set-changes. Add a powerful villain (with a redeeming backstory) and a charismatic narrator. Just add a bunch of show-stopping musical numbers, and you've got a show!

Urinetown, written by Greg Kotis and composed by Mark Hollman, is a musical about musicals. The plot is, of course, contrived: An evil corporation, Urine Good Company, forces everybody to pay a fee to empty their bladders. The poorest people grumble but obey. A young everyman, Bobby Strong, decides that this just ain't right. He starts a revolution, falls in love with a super-wealthy debutante, sings some rousing songs and falls from a tall building. The story is narrated by an omniscient copper, Officer Lockstock, who verbally winks at the audience, describing the musical as a musical and spoiling all its conventions. When Urinetown premiered in New York, in 2001, critics called it "postmodern" and satirical, two descriptors that can mean nothing and everything.

Stage 62's production of Urinetown is the best that community theater can deliver. Somehow, the sleepy suburb of Carnegie has raised a fertile crop of singers and dancers, who can perform gospel and jazz and soft-shoe without obvious exertion. Director Becki Toth has embellished an absurd story with absurd style -- over-the-top acting, electric dance numbers, perfect harmonies and a keen understanding of the musical's cynical message: Fascism sucks, but sometimes the fascists keep the trains running on time.

This production's only flaw is the Urinetown script itself, which is much too clever for its own good. It's always fun to watch playwrights break the fourth wall, but here it's not long before we feel a chilly draft. The narrator's self-analysis is relentless, and boring dialogue, designed to poke fun at cliché, is still boring. Urinetown's world premiere, in 2001, was delayed by 9/11, and it's become a victim of bad timing: General disdain for greedy rich people and stupid poor people is the afterglow of the 1990s, but even satirists have bigger things to worry about in the twilight of this troubling decade.

But that's little hindrance to Stage 62: Its performers are not so much "actors" as wildly emotive singers and dancers, and each scene unfolds like a mad sprint for the next epic dance-number. There are drops of humor interspersed, but the music is one long golden shower.

Let me rephrase that.

 

Urinetown continues through July 27. Andrew Carnegie Free Library, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. 412-429-6262 or www.stage62.com.

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