Urinetown -- a prison camp of sorts -- is a place nobody wants to go, but it's also a wildly funny and inventive piece of musical theater. The show, which opens this weekend at Playhouse on the Square, takes place in a town just like any other town you might find in a musical, only this town has been plagued by a terrible drought. Water is in such short supply that the wickedly bent CEO Caldwell B. Caldwell has figured out a way to charge citizens a pee fee, and those who refuse to pay are clapped in irons and shipped off to Urinetown.
Moving seamlessly between mild political satire and a fearsome parody of musical theater, Urinetown is the rare, intelligent musical custom-built for people who love to hate musicals. Its brooding atmospherics and constant critique of middle-class values place the show squarely in the tradition of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera, while its musical aesthetic is more in keeping with classic Mel Brooks.
Urinetown made its first underground splash in 1999 and was the first big Broadway show to open in New York after 9/11, a time when pundits nationwide were heralding the death of satire and other musicals were closing due to sharply declining ticket sales. Although Urinetown was anything but a love fest for American values, it was instantly embraced, winning a water-closet full of awards, including three Tonys. Playhouse on the Square's production of Urinetown is directed by the U of M's Bob Hetherington, who's been on a roll this theater season helming such productions as Parade at the U of M and Inherit the Wind at Theatre Memphis.
Urinetown, Playhouse on the Square through July 23rd. Go to playhouseonthesquare.org for times and ticket prices.