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Like No Other

Musicals are fairy tales. Some are jolly, like “Annie.” Some are grim: “Urinetown, The Musical,” for one. Grim, perplexing, riveting. At its heart, “Urinetown,” about a drought-ridden city and the corporate takeover of all toilets, is one long potty joke surrounding a tale of political domination and urban struggle. “Let my people pee” is scrawled on one wall of the grimy and admirably baleful set in this Ghent Playhouse production. But the UGC, the Urine Good Company, is totally in charge, forcing people to stand, squirming, in line waiting to pay for the UGC latrine. This musical, which opened in 2001 at the New York Fringe Festival and then migrated to Broadway for 965 performances and a number of awards, is about theater, too, and how it works. As Officer Lockstock (Mark Schane-Lydon) cautions Little Sally (Eleah Peal) who strives to give the audience some background, “Nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.” The central conceit, the cop/narrator tells us, is about forcing people to pay to pee. Those who break the Public Health Act, who turn to the bushes, say, are hustled off to Urinetown. What makes this show work is a string of clever and vibrant dance and music numbers echoing revival meetings and shows like “West Side Story,” “Les Mis,” “Fiddler on the Roof.” Yes, there’s a romance between Bobby Strong (Michael Meier) — a public toilet attendant who asks the dangerous question here, “What if the law is wrong?” and leads a ragged peoples’ rebellion — and Hope Cladwell (Kaitlin Pearson) whose father heads UGC. This fellow, Caldwell B. Cladwell (Tony Pallone), is ruthlessly devoted to “the regulating mechanism of cash.” We get his operative, too, the powerful and heartless Penelope Pennywise, in charge of the public amenity No. 9 (played with flash and wit by Amy Fiebke). This character’s the sort who makes ideas work in spite of the fact that such ideas are not in her best interest (sound familiar?). It’s all very focused, and when Sally offers new ideas for the play, Officer Lockstock explains, “It’s better to concentrate on one big idea than a lot of little ones. Audiences like it better,” he explains, “and it’s easier to write.” In the end, the true meaning of Urinetown is discovered, our worst fears for the lovers, the environment and for our future as a democratic nation are founded and Little Sally is forced to ask, “What kind of musical is this?” One like you’ve never seen before. “Urinetown, The Musical,” written by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, and directed here by Sky Vogel, runs at The Ghent Playhouse in Ghent, NY, through Feb. 5. For tickets, call 518-392-6264.

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