Mellow yellow 

Urinetown: The Musical at Onstage Atlanta

The oppressed masses of Urinetown: The Musical give literal meaning to the term "pissed off." They live in a city suffering from a drought so severe that they must pay steep fees just to go to the bathroom, and any unauthorized urinators get hauled off to a mysterious place known only as "Urinetown."

Urinetown creators Marc Hollman and Greg Kotis wittily parody musicals of the class struggle. When marching crowds defy the evil corporation that rules the city, they sing anthems and wave, inevitably, a yellow banner like a chorus from Les Miserables. Onstage Atlanta's enthusiastic new production, directed by Greg Poulos, at first has trouble capturing the material's faux-serious tone. The opening numbers show a sketch comedy self-conscious of the play's humor, and Michael Austin, as the stalwart rebel Bobby Strong, doesn't have quite enough mock-heroic stature.

But Poulos' production begins to kick into gear with the "Cop Song," in which menacing, truncheon-waving police officers sing a bogeyman's-gonna-getcha number with cheerful malice. For the riot at the end of Act One and the stylistically diverse numbers at the top of Act Two (which include riffs on West Side Story knife-fights and gospel choirs), the cast's enthusiasm and Ricardo Aponte's choreography rise to the occasion.

Jenna Edmonds and Eric McNaughton nail their crucial roles as Little Sally and Officer Lockstock (who also narrates), who first seem like droll clichés of the lovable ragamuffin and the all-knowing cop on the beat. They also embody Urinetown's opposing points of view of naïve idealism vs. callous realism, and McNaughton tells harsh truths to the little girl with an oily glee: "This isn't a happy musical, Sally." "But the music's so happy!" she protests.

Comparable to "South Park," Urinetown views altruistic rabble-rousers like Bobby with suspicion equal to corporate pirates such as Caldwell B. Cladwell (a sly Robert Wayne). The villains may be unabashedly corrupt, but the heroes stoop to terror tactics all too quickly -- and may be even worse at governing than the bad guys. Despite its unsteady moments, Onstage Atlanta's production embraces Urinetown's cynicism and lets loose a golden shower of uproarious, acidic comedy.

Urinetown: The Musical runs through March 25 at Onstage Atlanta, 2597 N. Decatur Road. Thurs. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $15-$20. 404-897-1802. www.onstageatlanta.com.

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