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‘Urinetown’ maintains its sting among the many laughs

“Expect the expected,” promises Officer Lockstock in “Urinetown: The Musical,” the Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s triumphant season finale. Of course, one expects anything but and this is one of many clever jokes on classical dramatic theory in the play.

With Brechtian tongue-in-cheek, Officer Lockstock announces to the audience “the central conceit of the show,” mainly that, because of a severe water shortage, private toilets are now illegal and “everyone has to use public bathrooms to take care of their private business.”

Public bathrooms are controlled by a private utility, Urine Good Company (UGC), headed by the avaricious Caldwell B. Cladwell, whose monopoly on one of life’s basic necessities allows him to keep prices high, forcing the poor to either pinch pennies to use one of the grungy public amenities or risk harsh penalties against following the call of nature in the bushes.

By invoking the Stage Manager from Thornton Wilder’s classic “Our Town” through the character of Officer Lockstock, “Urinetown” creators Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann make Urinetown our town.

Officer Lockstock is part Andy Griffith, part Orwellian Big Brother. Adam Kozlowski sets the sinister undertone for the entire play with his perfect comic control in this difficult role.

While Officer Lockstock insists to the audience that the play focuses on only one big thing, “Urinetown” speaks Las Vegas on many levels. For example, it evokes the recent Occupy Las Vegas movement even while it pokes fun at its populism. When the 99 percent overthrow UGC’s restrictive monopoly on toilets and proclaim free flushes for all, the water supply quickly shrinks lower than Lake Mead. Turns out Cladwell is a benign autocrat (Hello, Pat Mulroy!).

“Urinetown” pulls out every Broadway musical cliche to tell the stock love story of romantic everyman Bobby Strong, poor assistant custodian to Public Amenity No. 9, and Hope Cladwell, the idealistic young daughter of the evil utility head, Caldwell B. Cladwell.

Cladwell is played with superb comic villainy by Nate Bynum, who lends his rich baritone to the horrifyingly funny, “Don’t Be the Bunny,” about the importance of staying on the top of the capitalist food chain.

When Bobby witnesses his father (and mother, played by Scott Hale in a funny dual role) hauled away for urinating in public, he begins to realize that the law is wrong. Jordan Bondurant brings a comic earnestness to the role of Bobby, and his rich tenor convinces the audience of his sincerity even while we are laughing at the words coming out of his mouth.

In any other musical, Jade Payton, as Hope Cladwell, would stir our heartstrings in her lovely duet with Bondurant, “Follow Your Heart,” but here her romantic cliches only bring tears of laughter. After Hope is kidnapped and “radicalized” a la Patty Hearst by a band of rebels led by Bobby, Payton surprises with her fierceness in “I See a River.”

The supporting cast is golden. Joan Sobel is a knockout as the tough-as-nails Ms. Pennywise, the warden of Public Amenity No. 9, who has a secret past. Paris McCarthy, as Little Sally, deadpans some of the show’s most hilarious lines. Gerrad Alex Taylor makes a star splash as Hot Blades Harry, singing the frightening “Snuff That Girl.” The talented chorus adds musical and comic depth, especially in the Act 2 showstopper, “Run, Freedom, Run!”

“Urinetown’s” world of stock characters and Broadway cliches is made surprisingly full-orbed under Tim Bennett’s direction. Bennett’s choreography pokes fun at musicals such as “Annie,” “Les Miserables,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “West Side Story” while paying them homage. There are plenty of laughs in his “Urinetown,” but the play doesn’t lose its sting.

Kurt Jung’s comic lighting design almost becomes another character in the play. Shannon Moore’s rusting, post-industrial stage design works hand in glove with Alexandra Lambert’s ’40s/steampunk costumes. Christopher Lash ably directs the hidden orchestra, with expert sound design by Alan Holton.

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