'Urinetown' packing auds in at Signature

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Urinetown,” the irreverent peek at free enterprise and musical theater, is now a smash hit in the nation’s capital, kickstarting a promising fall season.

The musical is playing to packed houses at Arlington, Va.’s Signature Theater in the tuner’s first regional theater production. A finely polished display of local talent received unanimous raves following the show’s Aug. 21 opening, including Washington Post critic Peter Marks, who called it “tighter and funnier than the New York original.” The run has been extended through Oct. 16.

Directed by Joe Calarco and choreographed by Karma Camp, the show offers several original touches, such as a riotous staging of second-act number “Snuff That Girl” that employs an arsenal of toilet plungers.

Signature a.d. Eric Schaeffer said he landed the rights after D.C.’s Warner Theater was omitted as a road stop for the touring company. Exex presumably thought the show would be a tough sell here. But tell that to Signature’s beleaguered box office, which has been working on overdrive since the reviews came out.

The August hit makes a strong debut for the D.C. area’s theater season, one of its most adventurous in years with an inordinate number of risky new works on tap. And it couldn’t have come at a better time for Signature, which has only three productions left in its humble 157-seat theater before it moves into a new facility nearby. Subscriptions are at an all-time high, Schaeffer says.

Signature’s season will include its commission of a new musical called “Nevermore,” about poet Edgar Allen Poe, featuring music by Matt Conner and book by Norman Allen.

Other D.C. theaters also are gambling on the unknown, a sign of the continued maturity of the local theater scene. They include Arena Stage’s season-opening production of Sarah Ruhl’s opus, “Passion Play.” Arena commissioned Ruhl to complete a 10-year project that examines three eras of passion plays and the actors who perform in them.

Arena’s second premiere is “Cuttin’ Up,” a musical written and directed by Charles Randolph-Wright based on a book by Craig Marberry (“Crowns”), about the ties of community between black men and their barbershops.

Buzz also is building around the adventurous bookings of D.C.’s Theater J under artistic director Ari Roth, where three premieres are slated: “Bal Masque” by Richard Greenberg (“Take Me Out”), a stylish examination of three couples who have attended Truman Capote’s famous Black & White Ball; Ariel Dorfman’s “Picasso’s Closet”; and a new adaptation of S. Anski’s “The Dybbuk” to be co-produced with D.C.’s Synetic Theater.

Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, now settled into its new downtown home, will offer three preems on its five-play sked: “Starving” by S.M. Shephard-Massat, “The Velvet Sky” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and an “epic musical screwball tragedy” called “Horse Opera,” with book & lyrics by Quincy Long and music by Chris Jeffries.

Meanwhile, fresh perspectives on the classics will be mounted by Silver Spring, Md.’s Round House Theater with the U.S. premiere of Neil Bartlett’s adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ “Camille.” The season under new a.d. Blake Robison includes a new musical co-produced by the Delaware Theater Company based on a recently discovered short story by Mark Train. “A Murder, a Mystery & a Marriage: A Mark Train Musical Melodrama” features book and lyrics by Aaron Posner and music by James Sugg. Round House also will stage a new play by Lee Blessing called “A Body of Water.”

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