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SOU Theatre Department's musical 'Urinetown' is absurdly uplifting

On stage we see a squalid, dystopian town with down and out people waiting in line at one of the public lavatories that they are forced to pay exorbitant fees to use. But no one has enough money, and the fees keep going up to pay the greedy corporation that runs them — the Urine Good Co. But if people get caught breaking the law by relieving themselves somewhere else, they get carted off to a horrible place and are never seen again.

The horrible place is called "Urinetown." So is the darkly funny musical playing at Southern Oregon University. And it is something you should see again. And again.

When Samuel Dinkowitz as Officer Lockstock strides onto the apron of the stage addressing the audience with an oily mix of sincerity and bluntness, we know we're in for a ride. Dinkowitz brings the considerable comedic skills he showed in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." He is joined by "Forum" buddies John R. Lewis (Officer Barrel), Jimmy Garcia (Mr. McQueen) and Jon-Erik Hegstad (Caldwell B. Cladwell) for another evening of madness and mayhem and even more ridiculous lyrics.

The songs make a deliberate nod and a wink to Broadway musicals, providing an ongoing game of "name that show." Jim Giancarlo's choreography — some of his best work — drives the songs, Randall Stuart's direction, and the play's twisted sensibilities, imaginatively along. Jennifer Schloming and her five-piece band do a great job playing a score that is all over the musical map.

Stand out numbers — in a show full of them — include "It's a Privilege to Pee," "Cop Song," "Follow Your Heart," "Don't Be the Bunny," "Run, Freedom, Run!" and "Tell Her I Love Her." Danielle Chaves as Penelope Pennywise has a voice and a stage presence that belongs in a Broadway show. Monique Bernadette Barbée plays straight-arrow Hope Cladwell, the daughter of the tyrannical CEO. Hope falls in love with Bobby Strong, the earnest leader of the poor people's rebellion, played with matinee-idol charm by Tim Homsley. The two lovers are so wholesome, so innocent, and so corny. And they can sing. Barbée has some hilarious moments while gagged and tied to an office chair.

Roger Wykes' striking metal scaffold set, Deborah Rosenberg's clever yellow-themed costumes and Chris Sackett's atmospheric lighting sustain the mix of big Broadway production numbers and gritty street theater anarchy. "Urinetown" has been touted as a much-needed infusion of vitality and creative muscle flexing to Broadway. SOU's production has brilliantly captured the play's life and creativity.

"Urinetown" plays at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through March 9, in the Center Stage Theatre at SOU, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. Call 552-6348.

Richard Moeschl is the Mail Tibune's Tempo editor. Reach him at 776-4486.

A scene from Southern Oregon University's production of the Tony Award-winning musical 'Urinetown.' - Photo by Ezra Sverin