'Urinetown' opens in Sarasota

The hit show pokes fun at government, corproate greed and even theater

mclear@bradenton.comApril 17, 2014 

Clockwise from top: Ashley Jai, Chris Caswell, Bob Turoff, Jason Ellis, Sarah Cassidy star in "Urinetown." PHOTO PROVIDED

It's one of the oddest musicals, and one of the most unlikely success stories, in theater history.

From its distasteful title to its even more distasteful plot, "Urinetown" seems almost consciously designed to be a show that won't appeal to the masses. It's about a totalitarian state where people have to pay high fees to use the bathroom.

But after beginning in fringe festivals in 2001, it graduated to tiny New York theaters, then to Broadway where it won three Tony Awards, and on to national tours. Eventually it became popular community theaters and even high schools.

It's next up from the Players Theatre, where it opens a two-week run on today.

The plot involves a drought-ridden town where water is so precious that private toilets have been outlawed.

"It just so happens that in the future they actually charge people to pee, or at least to use the lavatory facilities," said Jeffery Kin, the Players' artistic director. "What you have here is a very well written, very bright tongue-in-cheek show with great songs."

There's a lot of silly humor, but "Urinetown" also satirizes greed, corporate corruption and even Broadway musicals.

"For me, I'm always looking for interesting shows that say something," Kin said. "That idea of corporations taking control of society is even more pertinent today then it was in 2001. This show actually says something better now than it said when it was new."

Some audiences might be turned off by the title and the subject matter. The show's popularity, acclaim and awards have taken care of some of that reaction. Besides, the show's characters openly make fun of the ickiness of the theme, and even the awfulness in the title, and that usually puts the audience at ease.

Kin said he's especially proud of this production, which is directed by Kyle Turoff and stars her father, Bob Turoff, as the villainous Coldwell B. Cladwell.

"We're really fortunate," he said. "We've got a great cast."

Kin recalled that during one recent rehearsal, he and another member of the Players staff were sitting in a office, listening to the music through the walls.

"He said, 'That's not our cast, is it?'," Kin said. "And I said 'It sure is.' He though it must have been the Broadway cast recording."

Details: April 17-27, The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $25-$30; under 18 12. Information: 941-365-2494, www.theplayers.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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