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From the moment the show opens with Officer Lockstock's narration to the ending cry of "Hail Maulthus," "Urinetown" is a thrill ride of musical satire.

A drought-plagued town is forced to conserve water so fiercely that people have to use public pay toilets. A big corporation, Urine Good Company (UGC), which keeps the local senator on its bribe list, makes huge profits from its monopoly on public restrooms. An uprising begins at the poorest public amenity, sending the plot dancing with idealism and issues of public responsibility. Naturally (this is a musical), in the midst of conflict, love blooms between Hope Cladwell, the daughter of UGC's head honcho, and revolutionary leader Bobby Strong.

Every element of this show is top-notch, but special kudos go to choreographer Brandon Becker. Becker magically overcomes the challenges of a tiny stage packed with a large cast to create Broadway-worthy dance numbers spiced with elements that mock famous musicals. Highlights of Becker's imaginative style are displayed in "The Cop Song," in which flashlights are used to create a sinister effect, and in a wild slow-motion fight scene during the Act I finale.

Scott Melton opens the show as the smooth-talking narrator, Officer Lockstock. His velvet voice gives an ironic sense of security to his hard facts -- the audience understands from his first words that the content of the show will not be pretty, but will be presented in a pretty way. Melton glides through his version of Lockstock, the ultimate "cop just doing his job." He makes the character's harsh deeds (like throwing folks off buildings) seem normal.

Overly idealistic Hope Cladwell is perfectly portrayed by Angela Shipley. She graces Hope with all the sweetness and purity one could wish for in a satirical ingénue without making her sappy (no simple feat with lines such as, "It is rather shiny, that's true enough"). She earns her place as a star of the show with an incredible solo in "You Are the River," mastering soulful vocals that bring down the house.

Miss Pennywise, the no-nonsense operator of Public Amenity Number 9, is deftly played by Debra Wagoner. Costumed like a crazed Lucy Ricardo, Wagoner successfully balances the bad-girl personality with enough natural charm to save Pennywise from being unsympathetic. Her vocals, as always, are stellar — especially in "It's a Privilege to Pee."

Swift Creek has thrown down the gauntlet with this season-opener. We'll see how the others come trickling in. S



"Urinetown" at Swift Creek Mill Playhouse runs through Nov. 2. Tickets are $31.50-$33.50. Call 748-5203 or visit www.swiftcreekmill.com.



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