This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.
Urinetown: The Musical, winner of the 2002 Tony Award for Best Original Score, never made a big splash in Los Angeles. Most Broadway musicals, even ones that don't win a slew of Tony's, get significant runs here at large houses like the Pantages or the Music Center; but John Rando's award-winning production of Urinetown--despite its New York success--only got a two week engagement at the less-than-grand Wilshire Theater back in 2004.
This neglect has been rectified thanks to the Interact Theater Company, which has staged a scrappy revival of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman's quirky musical with an even quirkier title. Urinetown is a dystopian show set in a "not-so-distant future" where citizens must pay a fee every time they need to use the bathroom. The plot and structure resemble depression-era proletariat theater works a la Clifford Odets or Marc Blitzstein--the blue-collar hero is named Bobby Strong and the villains are a cigar smoking cabal of corrupt Senators and back-room businessmen. The songs sound like Kurt Weill, but with titles like "It's a Privilege to Pee" and "I See a River," Urinetown's catchy, winking tunes owe more to the pastiche of South Park than the politics of Street Scene.
Only when the sarcastic show tries to be sincere, like when it pauses for obligatory love ballads, does the musical lose its edge--but this is a small price to pay. Urinetown is that rare musical which is both crowd-pleasing and challenging. It's also a show that works well--perhaps even better--in a small venue. Urinetown started out in the basement of a Lower East Side church before finding its way to the Great White Way. In this local revival, Urinetown is scaled back to its humble roots. The acting is often crude and the singing occasionally off key, but the tone of Urinetown almost demands a rag-tag, amateurish quality. Director Calvin Remsberg embraces this, and so the simple sets and dissonant acting styles add to the whole.
Besides giving Angelinos a longer look at this odd but endearing musical, this spunky revival suggests that Kotis and Hollmann's neo-Brechtian burlesque is more than just a cult show that got lucky. Five years after its Broadway debut, Urinetown shows no signs of losing its distinction as America's Number One Musical.
Greg Kotis, Urinetown's co-writer, further reveals his love of outhouse humor with his new, nonmusical play: Pig Farm. This zany, barnyard comedy has no on-stage urination, but it does offer bucketful's of "fecal sludge," to use Pig Farm parlance.
The plot of Pig Farm is simple. It's a showdown between Tom the Pig Farmer and an agent from the Environmental Protection Agency. Apparently someone's been dumping fecal sludge into the local river and the Feds have followed the scent to Tom's farm. Adding to the mayhem is Tom's baby-crazed, rolling pin-wielding wife and an unstable juvenile delinquent--and to top it off all of these characters' names start with the letter "T."
The hi-jinks that the four characters--Tom, Tim, Tina and Teddy--get into aren't very complex and the humor (as you can tell) isn't subtle. If you end up laughing during Pig Farm, it's usually at the intentional corniness of it, sort of like watching reruns of "Mama's Family" or "Hee-Haw." The title of the play is practically an invitation for the actors to ham it up, and all four do so, with super-sized accents and generous amounts of mugging.
Director Matt August has the actors perform at a pace that resembles the swine stampede that ends Act I, but his manic production can't out run the fact that Pig Farm is more of a skit than a play. Yes, there's a slim subtext about mass production and government regulation plus, of course, a few guffaws; but as either comedy or drama, Pig Farm just doesn't bring home the bacon.
This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.