We never knew how much we wanted to hear Barbara Robertson wail an ’80s-style rock ballad like Lita Ford until we heard it in this sublimely goofy, proudly weird new musical. That number, “Love Equals Pain,” is just one of the unexpected pleasures of Hollmann and Kotis’s follow-up to Urinetown, set in the year 3,000,458,000 B.C. among a society of single-celled yeasts in the primordial soup. Ruled by Jan the Elder (Joseph Anthony Foronda), from whom all others are descended, the yeast colony has a problem: After a thousand years of unchecked consumption, the food supply is running low. Jan the Second (Andrew Keltz), the Elder’s favorite son, has a plan to save them, but it means breaking Dad’s rules. Meanwhile, the yeasts are experiencing a strange new sensation; as Jan the Unnamed (Robertson), the blind, wizened seer, tells us, here are history’s first sparks of love, and Second’s got it bad for cutie-pie Jan the Sweet (Melanie Brezill).
Kotis and Hollman are clearly working Urinetown territory here, including hyper-self-awareness, audience address and a depleting-resources theme. But Hollmann’s accomplished rock score and Kotis’s book, which deals in twisted Shakespearean themes between the metatheatrical jokes, are thoroughly enjoyable. True, sound issues make it tough to make out some of the intricate lyrics, and Paparelli’s aim to use every corner of ATC’s stage means some scenes are partially hidden. But the entire ensemble, outfitted in costume designer Paul Spadone’s translucent-green ponchos, is fantastically committed to the cause. And if it’s reminiscent of a previous hit, so what? No one else is doing anything remotely like it.