Thirteen cast members are onstage, with a large group in the front in raggedy clothing, holding signs and otherwise assuming postures suggesting rebellion. A painted dropcloth at the rear spells out "URINETOWN."
The cast of Urinetown: The Musical with Surging Films and Theatrics Credit: Courtesy Surging Films and Theatrics

In the 20 years since Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’s gently irreverent and thoroughly catchy musical premiered, it’s become such a beloved staple among professional and amateur companies that it’s easy to forget about the odd footing upon which the show stumbled onto the Broadway stage. Originally scheduled to debut September 13, 2001, the vaudevillian, semi-Brechtian dark comedy was delayed only a week by the 9/11 attacks, then officially opened in a venue New York Times critic Bruce Weber described as “sporadically used and somewhat dilapidated.” Even at the following summer’s Tony Awards ceremony, it was a visual outlier onstage, wedged between glitzy instant four-quad mega hits like Mamma Mia! and Thoroughly Modern Millie and the short-lived The Sweet Smell of Success, a prime example of the self-serious, dorky musical dramas Urinetown was lovingly sending up.

Urinetown: The Musical
Through 8/25: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Sat 8/20 3 PM, the Edge Off Broadway, 1133 W. Catalpa, surgingfilms.com, $45

Two decades later, though, the class clown of that year’s Broadway lineup is still in regular rotation, as it is in the current Surging Films & Theatrics production at ​​the Edge Off Broadway, which carries on the show’s signature heart and scrappiness. In a dystopia ravaged by drought and corporate authoritarianism, Bobby Strong (Jimmy Hogan), a public toilet toll collector, falls in love with Hope Cladwell (Stephanie Boyd), a naive but benevolent daughter of the Urine Good Company dynasty, then sparks an uprising against the monopolistic overlord (Tony Calkins). Director Billy Surges’s production effectively walks the show’s essential line between earnestness and outright parody, and leads Boyd and Hogan carry enough vocal authority to make sense of Hollmann’s superb and challenging score, which darts around from operatic air to klezmer to jazz and gospel.

One tricky absence here is the lack of live onstage instrumentation, which, for this show, typically offers a razzy, big reverberating sound with a small cabaret-sized setup. When paired with a fair amount of ensemble numbers that are sung with more karaoke enthusiasm than technical prowess, the reliance on sound cues lends itself to a younger, more academic experience than the bridge between community and Equity that Surging F&T claims to be. But that shouldn’t take away from the toe-tapping heights achieved here in rousing numbers like “Run, Freedom, Run!” or “I See a River,” as well as enough solid laughs to make audiences forget about their pee anxiety (at least until intermission).