‘Urinetown’ leaks laughs: Singing Onstage show takes digs at conventions of musical theater

Imagine a place where residents literally pay as they go to do their business — the private kind.

“Urinetown” takes audiences there, to a mythical hardscrabble town so drought-stricken that toilets have been banned to conserve water. Everyone must use corporate-owned public amenities, and scofflaws guilty of, well, illegal deposits are exiled to Urinetown, a mysterious prison of no return.

The whole scenario, to be played out Aug. 9 at the State Theatre by mostly high school students with the local Singing Onstage Studios drama company, certainly sounds grim. But though “Urinetown” plumbs such dark subjects as greed, corruption, revolution and betrayal, this irreverent, tongue-in-cheek musical just might leave you at times close to breaking its laws in your seat.

“The first and foremost thing about the show is it’s a comedy,” director Richard Biever said.

Lydia Malcom couldn’t agree more, noting she and her fellow cast members often couldn’t help laughing on stage during rehearsals.

“It’s hilarious, and I think the audience will enjoy it,” she said.

The humor, Biever said, doesn’t come from the plot.

“I mean, the whole idea of having to pay to pee might be funny, but the reason they have to pay is because there’s a drought and there’s a corporate takeover,” he said. “And the poor people are the ones who suffer the most because they can’t afford to pay every time. Then when you find out what the punishment is for not using the facilities, there’s nothing funny about it.”

Instead, the show draws laughter from its sly lines, and from breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly in the tradition of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. The narrator, Officer Lockstock, and his sidekick, Little Sally, often knowingly refer to the production, such as when Lockstock cautions Sally about killing a play with “too much exposition.”

Biever said the play pokes fun at musical theater conventions as well as at itself.

“It’s a self-aware musical,” he said. “It’s a show that knows it’s a show.”

First produced off-Broadway in 2001 before running for 965 Broadway performances, “Urinetown” also satirizes famous musicals with takeoffs on dances from “Chicago,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “West Side Story” and “Les Misérables.”

Biever, who will lead a small orchestra through the jazzy score, called the show a “potpourri of musical theater history.”

“It’s a choreographer’s dream,” he said.

As she has done for many local productions, Jill Brighton created the show’s complex choreography.

“I just loved it,” said Brighton, also the stage manager. “I got to throw a little Fosse in there, a little ‘Fiddler on the Roof,” a little ‘Les Miz.’ ”

Biever praised his young cast’s work mastering the dances to tell a tale of star-crossed love and a rebellion by seriously pissed-off people.

“The thing is, it’s an incredibly entertaining show,” he said. “You’re going to have a great time. It’s fun to watch ... ‘Urinetown’ equals laughs.”