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THEATER REVIEW

Smaller, but still a whole lot of fun

'Urinetown,' after Broadway and national runs, gets fine treatment in humbler hands.

September 22, 2006|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Resource depletion? Social decay? What great ideas for a musical!

And that musical would, of course, be "Urinetown," the improbably entertaining show written in Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill style and performed by a dirt-smeared, hollow-eyed cast. The show started small and grew into a Broadway production and national tour. Now, local companies are having a go at it, returning it to its humble roots. In the 99-seat Matrix Theatre on Melrose, Interact Theatre Company's production is inescapably in-your-face and a whole lot of fun.

Once past the chain-link fence at the auditorium's entrance, theatergoers encounter stark brick walls and general urban bleakness (set design by Matt Scarpino). Soon, figures materialize from the gloom to begin their daily scramble to scrape together enough money to use the pay toilets owned by a nefarious monopoly in a time of ominous water shortage.

In faux-Brechtian style, the imposing Officer Lockstock (Matthew Ashford) and a preternaturally wise, hardscrabble urchin known as Little Sally (Rona Benson) wipe away artifice by focusing attention on the presentation's theatrical constructs and sympathizing with our natural distaste for the show's title (something that "could kill a show pretty good," Little Sally reasons).

Director Calvin Remsberg and his cast take impish delight in inflating every aspect of the show to within a breath of bursting. Pushing well beyond the bounds of subtlety, they deliver a Lockstock whose oily flop of hair and thin mustache make him look like Hitler and a corporate king (a dual-cast role played by John Rubinstein at the reviewed performance) who's the very picture of smiling insincerity.

Rising against their iron-fisted ways are an Everyman hero with a punchy high baritone (John Hemphill) and his love interest, the corporate king's equality-minded, dangerously perky daughter (Kelly Lohman).

The show received three Tonys in 2002, including awards for Greg Kotis' book and Mark Hollmann and Kotis' score. The folk rhythms are robustly played here by a three-person band, while the singers humorously remind us: "Rich folks get the good life, poor folks get the woe. In the end it's nothing you don't know."

daryl.miller@latimes.com

*

`Urinetown'

Where: Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Nov. 5

Price: $25

Contact: (818) 765-8732 or www.interactla.org

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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