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Title doesn't appeal, but the musical most likely will


Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre usually puts on Shakespeare for the second of its three shows, but the theater group decided to shake things up for its 40th anniversary by offering the dark comedy Urinetown, The Musical.

Now the group will see whether theater patrons look past the off-putting title to check out the outdoor production of the surprise Broadway hit, a spoof of well-known musicals such as Evita and Les Miserables.

At an informal overview session titled "Everything You Wanted to Know About Urinetown, The Musical but Were Afraid to Ask," 24-year-old director Rod Giddings said audiences will find much to enjoy in the play. "I'm really proud of this production," Giddings said.

According to the theater group's Web site, Urinetown is about how a water shortage in a big city leads to a ban on private toilets. With citizens forced to pay to use public facilities owned by one company, a man named Bobby Strong emerges to resist "poverty and oppression to lead the down-and-out into a frenzied 'revolution.'"

Anyone who refuses to pay is hauled off to dreaded Urinetown - from which they never return.

Giddings explained the play's premise this way:

"The idea for Urinetown was spawned when Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, traveling together in Europe in the mid-1990s, found only pay WC facilities available for the public use," Giddings said. They had no cash to pay the fee.

"Based on their experience, Hollman immediately began writing the music and lyrics, with Greg Kotis also contributing lyrics and writing the book that originally debuted at the 1999 International Fringe Festival," Giddings said.

In late spring and early summer 2001, the show was performed off-Broadway before its Broadway debut on Sept. 20, 2001. The first musical to open in New York after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it told a uniquely modern dark story.

It became a surprise hit that ran on Broadway until Jan. 18, 2004, closing after 966 performances and winning three Tony awards in 2002 for best director, best original score and best book of a musical.

The musical garnered critical raves and prestigious awards during its 2005 regional premiere at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., where according to Giddings "the show sold out every performance and had its run extended." Signature's production received an unprecedented eight Helen Hayes Awards at the 22nd annual ceremony in April this year.

The musical's premise is unusual, and its title so unappealing that it inspires the play's Little Sally to remark: "I don't think that many people are going to come see this musical."

But anyone devoted to musical theater would enjoy this original satire that parodies iconic shows such as Guys and Dolls, Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, The Threepenny Opera and Cabaret.

Opening on June 30 and running through July 29, Summer Garden's production will feature a lively cast of veterans and newcomers, including E. Lee Nicol as hero/assistant amenity custodian Bobby Strong; Erin Zimberg as Bobby's love, Hope Cladwell - the daughter of the man who runs the whole town; and Tom Newbrough, making his Summer Garden debut as Caldwell B. Cladwell.

Judson Davis will play Officer Lockstock, and Catherine Chiappa will play rebellion organizer Penelope Pennywise. Natalie Cutcher will make her Summer Garden debut as Little Sally, and Greg Bosworth will play Officer Barrel with Sue Centurelli in the role of Josephine Strong.

Director Giddings promises live music onstage, with Marsha Goldsmith directing. Giddings promises that the talented cast of this Maryland premiere of Urinetown will make this a new show every night.

The show runs Thursdays through Sundays at 8:30 p.m. Early reservations are suggested. Reservations: 410-268-9212.

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