Pees in a Pod 

click to enlarge art33_theater_urine_100.jpg

It's a bold move for Swift Creek Mill Artistic Director Tom Width to present "Urinetown" as the playhouse's season opener. Not the usual Swift Creek fare, "Urinetown" sounds like a horrible play with uncomfortable subject matter (a line in the play actually states what folks are already thinking: "The title's awful"). But the dark, satirical musical comedy promises to satisfy a plenty of theatergoing types.

Winner of three Tony awards (Best Director of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical) and an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Broadway Musical in 2002, "Urinetown" holds its water in theatrical notoriety and craft. Greg Kotis was inspired to write a story about "people who have to pay for the right to pee" while traveling through Europe and encountering pay-per-use public toilets. Kotis collaborated with composer/lyricist Mark Hollman to create the play, but Kotis and Hollman could not persuade anyone to produce the incongruous musical.

The show was finally accepted as part of the New York Fringe Festival. There, Kotis and Hollman met playwright David Auburn ("Proof"), who immediately connected them with a New York production company. "Urinetown" was produced off-Broadway by the Araca Group and opened on Broadway in September 2001. Ten Tony nominations followed in 2002.

"The show has all the elements of great musical theater: fun dancing, great acting and singing, catchy tunes, plus wicked satire," says Angela Shipley, who is cast as Hope in Swift Creek's production. "Urinetown" ridicules corporate mismanagement, bureaucracy, government corruption, unsustainable lifestyles and social behavior while paying homage to and winking at big Broadway musicals.

Shipley sums up the gist of the show: "This is a show that is subversive but accessible, because it is ironic and dark but incredibly funny."

The diversity that "Urinetown" offers is the reason that Width and Swift Creek have stepped out of their theatrical comfort zone of arguably safe play choices.

Still, "it is good, clean fun," says Jacquie O'Connor, a Swift Creek board member. "It sends a message but in a way that makes you laugh out loud." While Width calls "Urinetown" a "great American musical success story," he says the biggest obstacle of this play should be, of course, "getting people past the title." S

"Urinetown" at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre opens Aug. 30 and runs through Nov. 3. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and select Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Some 7:30 p.m. Sunday performances are also available. Tickets are $32.50-$34.50. Call 748-5203.

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