A nearly sold-out opening night and strong advance sales convinced the Annapolis Summer Garden folks that local audiences will welcome what is new, regardless of the weird title.
In fact Urinetown, The Musical has found a snug environment here at Annapolis Summer Garden's intimate casual outdoor City Dock setting. It offers the cacophony of boat horns, revving motorcycle engines and occasional sirens as a distinctive counterpoint to the intriguing score of this 1999 fringe hit that debuted on Broadway in 2001.
In his program notes, Director Ron Giddings describes the Mark Hollman-Greg Kotis musical as "a political thriller, an over-the-top melodrama, a musical soap opera and a love letter to Broadway" that "has value on a human level and is more poignant now than it was five years ago when it opened on Broadway."
Because of a water shortage in Urinetown, consumption is controlled by a corporation that owns public facilities that all citizens must pay to use, a political situation that causes frustration to boil up until some residents revolt and become terrorists.
Having seen and enjoyed Urinetown on Anne Arundel Community College's 2003 New York theater trip, I was surprised to find that Summer Garden's was in many ways as appealing as the Broadway version. In addition to the cozy hometown setting, Giddings has assembled a talented cast of veterans and newcomers who are skilled ensemble players and seem delighted to be in this show. Many display exceptional singing talent, enunciating all the witty lyrics to make each word understandable. The Broadway production may have excelled in its choreography; in this version, director and choreographer Giddings emphasizes subtle comedy to suggest the ethnicity of Fiddler on the Roof and overblown militarism to recall Les Miserables.
Whether Urinetown is being performed in Annapolis or New York, its set design requirements are minimal and costumes appear to be off Goodwill thrift store shelves. Richer period costumes of the Cladwell Corporation and family members work riotously well for them, as they sing "Mr. Cladwell," the company song extolling the big boss.
Judson Davis - a veteran actor-singer in roles as diverse as Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar, the Balladeer in Assassins and Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees - is consistently on the mark in the role of Officer Lockstock, the narrator and edict enforcer.
Debuting at Summer Garden, Baltimore native Erin Zimberg, currently a student at the famed Stella Adler Studio of Acting at New York University, is enchanting as rich girl/love interest Hope Cladwell. Her duet "Follow Your Heart" with hero Bobby Strong - played with leading-man passion by E. Lee Nicol - is both well-sung and filled with satirical humor.
Such is the attraction of this show that star performers such as Sue Centurelli, who graced Summer Garden's stage as Mama Rose in Gypsy, plays the relatively minor part of the hero's mother, Josephine Strong, bringing stature and joy to it.
Veteran actor-director Tom Newbrough becomes a delightful song-and-dance man as unscrupulous Caldwell B. Cladwell in the satirical "Don't Be the Bunny" anthem.
Summer Garden veteran Alicia Sweeney is hysterical as the very pregnant Little Becky Two-Shoes, who rolls on cue down three steep steps.
Debuting as Little Sally, Natalie Cutcher is spunky and appealing and knows how to belt out a song.
Also debuting is Catherine Chiappa, who is tough and brassy as public amenity assistant custodian Penelope Pennywise, who gradually reveals a secret relationship.
Everyone in the show delivers what is required with dedication and a sense of camaraderie, conveying an extra measure of fun. This shared joy shines through to remain with us afterward.
Urinetown continues at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays through July 29. Reservations: 410-268-9212