AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music by Mark Hollmann
Lyrics by Mark Hollmann & Greg Kotis
Book by Greg Kotis
Directed by John Rando
Presented by American Conservatory Theater
At the Geary Theater
415 Geary St. at Mason, San Francisco / (415) 749-2228

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann set out to write a musical so terrible that no one would dare produce it. What they came up with was "Urinetown, The Musical," winner of the 2002 Tonys for best book, score and direction. It's also a bright, brash, hilarious political satire and clever paean to some musical theater giants. Hollmann's music and lyrics and Kotis' book and lyrics put clever spins on Brecht- Weil's "The Threepenny Opera" as well as Sondheim's "Into the Woods," Bernstein's "West Side Story" along with Rodgers and Hammerstein, "Fiddler on the Roof," rock, gospel and others. John Carrafa's choreography honors such greats as Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins.

Despite all these allusions, the show, directed by John Rando, has its own freshness and originality because it's so cleverly crafted. After its successful premiere off-Broadway in 1999 and subsequent transfer to Broadway, it's beginning its national tour at American Conservatory Theater's Geary Theater in San Francisco.

As for the title, it refers to a Gotham-like city where a 20-year drought has so severely depleted the water supply that the legislature has outlawed private toilets. Instead, people must pay for the privilege to pee at public amenities, all of them run by Urine Good Company, a firm run by the handsome but ruthless and corrupt Caldwell B. Cladwell (Ron Holgate). After the fee to pee is raised once again, the city's poorest people, led by Bobby Strong (Charlie Pollock), rebel at Amenity #9, managed by the tough Penelope Pennywise (Beth McVey). In the meantime, though, Bobby has fallen in love with Cladwell's beautiful, innocent daughter, Hope (Christiane Noll). In a Brechtian touch, there's a narrator, Officer Lockstock (the marvelously droll Tom Hewitt), who sometimes talks directly to the audience and sometimes explains things to Little Sally (the pert Meghan Strange).

Except for some slow spots in the second act, the show zips along, aided by Scott Pask's quick scenery changes, Gregory A. Gale and Jonathan Bixby's costumes, Brian MacDevitt's lighting, Jeff Curtis and Lew Mead's sound, and Jason DeBord's musical direction.

As for the start of the tour, the show proved such a big draw in advance that ACT added 24 performances. The box office advance was the strongest for an ACT show since Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" in the 1994-95 season.

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