“Nothing can kill a show like too much exposition, Little Sally,” the delightfully overbearing narrator Officer Lockstock (Jon Frazier) explains to the obnoxiously cute pigtailed, stuffed-animal-clutching little girl (Roni Geva) representing “hope” early on in “Urinetown the Musical.” “How about bad subject matter? Or a bad title, even? That could kill a show pretty good,” she responds in a wide-eyed manner. “Urinetown” is to musical theater what “Airplane!” is to disaster movies: a shameless and hysterical send-up of the form that depends as much on the straight-faced delivery of its performers as the material itself. The creation of Chicagoans Mark Hollman (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (books and lyrics), the work had a regional run in Michigan before moving Off-Broadway, where it was such an unexpected hit that it won three 2002 Tony Awards and turned the Great White Way itself yellow for a time. “The central conceit of the show,” as Officer Lockstock would say, is a town so drought-stricken that the corrupt Urine Good Company can gouge the desperate populace for the “privilege to pee.” Along the way, there are absurd and riotous romps of classic musical moments from “West Side Story” to “Les Misérables” with even a delightfully ill-timed post-finale “Fiddler on the Roof” wedding dance. Virtually every line and scenario in the show has obvious and subtle undertones from other shows—often simultaneously—and untangling and identifying them all will keep aficionados of the form blissfully occupied while the novices who hate musicals will still get plenty of belly laughs by ridiculing the aspects that annoy them the most. The combined equity and non-equity ensemble have obviously rehearsed the show inside and out for what all involved hope will be an extended open run. (Dennis Polkow)
Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport, (312)559-1212. Open run.