‘Yeast’ rising in Chicago

'Urinetown' pair reunite on new musical

Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann, creators of Tony-winner “Urinetown,” will premiere another original musical, “Yeast Nation: The Triumph of Life,” as part of the upcoming American Theater Company season in Chicago.

Offbeat musical satire “Urinetown,” about a tyrannical world where people have to pay to relieve themselves, premiered at the New York Intl. Fringe Festival in 1999, and then became something of a surprise Broadway success starting in 2001, running for more than two years and almost 1,000 performances. It won Tonys for book, score and John Rando’s direction.

“Yeast Nation” will explore similarly odd territory. Show is set more than 3 billion years ago among the planet’s earliest life forms, salt-eating yeasts. Musical combines ’80s rock and disco to tell a story of a dim-witted tyrant and a single-celled dreamer.

While dates have not yet been set, the premiere will be part of ATC’s 2008-09 season, the first under the aegis of new artistic director PJ Paparelli, who recently came to the 134-seat ATC from Alaska’s Perseverance Theater.

In addition to “Yeast Nation,” Paparelli has programmed the Chicago premiere of “The People’s Temple,” the story of the mass murder-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978, and cross-cast dual co-productions with Chicago’s Congo Square Theater of Sam Shepard’s “True West” and Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog,” to play in rep. ATC also plans a touring version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Rounding out the season will be one of two projects: either a new play from Cuban-American scribe Eduardo Machado, “The Night in Hialeah,” starring Olympia Dukakis, or “Expedition 6,” a performance piece about the Columbia shuttle disaster conceived and directed by Bill Pullman.

Paparelli also replaced the planned April ATC production of “Born Yesterday” with the first regional staging of Stephen Karam’s “Speech & Debate,” currently running Off Broadway for Roundabout. Paparelli previously collaborated with Karam as co-writers of “columbinus,” about the school shootings in Columbine, Colo.