Urine For a Treat

The wickedly clever musical Urinetown should be as hot on the local theater circuit as that burning sensation produced after your friendly neighborhood gonorrhea shacks up in your urinary tract. It's ironic and smart enough to appeal to enlightened souls (those who usually loathe musicals) and tuneful, silly and "musical" enough to appeal to those who actually believe Nathan Lane should continue to live.

Urinetown is also perfect for smaller stages, since it isn't saddled with a bombastic score or the kind of overwrought visuals many big-time musicals demand in order to keep the viewer distracted from a lifeless, derivative story. Yet the ongoing Maverick Theater production marks only the second time an Orange County theater has staged the surprise 2002 Broadway smash.

Some of that is obviously rights-related, but you can't help but wonder if the title or premise is enough to turn some theaters off, as the characters slyly mention in the show itself. Basically, it's set in a not-so-distant future in a "Gotham-like" city where water is in such short supply that it actually costs money to pee in the government-authorized urinals, called "public amenities." And, to get all the people using these public toilets (and making sure to collect their money), it's illegal to defecate or urinate in public.

If the concept's a deterrent, it's a shame, because if there is any musical worth producing anywhere it's this one, as the current production gloriously confirms from start to finish. Urinetown works marvelously on several levels: as homage to, and satire of, the American musical and American music; as a bleak prophecy of a world reaping the results of unsustainable economic and environmental practices; and as a rather sophisticated take on the dynamic between greed and good. The bad guy in Urinetown—and yes, he's a prick—is actually better for the town than the Bastille-charging poor who yearn to topple him.

But, mostly, Urinetown works because it's so damn funny. Director Darren Levens knows this, and everything in his production is geared toward reinforcing it, from his outstanding cast to the excellent live band led by Justin Pyne, which should forever end any question between live versus recorded music in a musical. People: if you can't find a band, or afford one, don't do the show. Live musicians, rather than pushed buttons, give the feeling the music is growing from—rather than dictating—the story, and the result is a very real, very organic Urinetown.

The cast is bookended by one of local theater's most seasoned talents—Christopher Spencer as the sinisterly manipulative Boss Hogg of the play—and two of its brightest young talents, Kalinda Gray and Shaun Leslie Thomas as the earnestly dopey young lovers whose lives change most during the proceedings. In between is a ferociously talented ensemble bursting with enthusiasm and energy. All 12 performers get ample time to shine, with Amie Shapiro's ferociously funny turn as a bloodthirsty cripple standing out.

Urinetown rose to fame in New York City, but its creators hammered out their aesthetic in the small rooms of experimental Chicago theater. That's why this show is so ideal for smaller venues. And with any luck, there should be a steady stream of Urinetowns on college campuses and storefront theaters for years to come, since it's inspired as much by The Simpsons as it is by Rodgers and Hammerstein. But it's difficult to imagine any production after this one—hell, any musical for that matter—being quite so funny.

URINETOWN AT Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-7070; www.mavericktheater.com. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m. Through April 14. $10-$20.


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