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Friday, August 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 80.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Walmartopia in New York
Can the local production conquer the big city?
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Walmartopia heads to a place with no Wal-marts.
Walmartopia heads to a place with no Wal-marts.

Catherine Capellaro and Andrew Rohn's satirical big-box musical Walmartopia has enjoyed remarkable success locally, including a record run of sellouts at the Bartell Theatre. But Rohn says the stakes get higher for the married couple in mid-August, when they take a reworked version of the musical to the New York International Fringe Festival. With help from an anonymous financial backer, they've hired a manager and a publicist whose résumé includes work with Hairspray and Rent, and like many of the 200-plus companies and performers who'll mount work at the festival, they hope to make connections with agents, directors and producers during the show's five-day run. Rohn says that they'd love to secure a commercial production of their work in New York and notes that Urinetown got its big commercial break at Fringe.

But the couple don't have stars in their eyes. Their first musical, Temp Slave, snagged a New York reading but went no further than that. And Rohn's realistic about what the festival can do for their career: "There are a lot of avenues to success and actually making a life writing plays. We'd like to get it published, and then colleges and community theaters all over the place would do it. That's probably a more dependable way to make money off your play than an off-Broadway production."

In the meantime, Walmartopia will have a send-off performance at the Barrymore Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 12, 8 p.m.

A what-if fantasy about a world ruled by Wal-Mart's all-consuming corporate vision, the play got its start as a one-act written for Mercury Players Theatre. It was expanded for the sold-out Bartell run last year. Many of the actors and musicians involved in those productions will be onstage at New York's Harry DuJur Playhouse, though festival rules required paring the large cast down to 17 members. With just 15 minutes before and after the show to set up and strike the production, Capellaro, Rohn and their crew also have to abandon the splashy sets and lighting design that animated a two-day run earlier this year at the Overture Center's Capitol Theater.

Ironically, there are no Wal-Marts in New York City. Will that make a difference to Walmartopia's reception in the country's cultural capital? "I'm very curious about how New Yorkers will respond to it," Rohn says. "Madison audiences are amazing; any kind of political comment in the show gets big whoops and applause. But urban areas are the one place that Walt-Marts haven't been so successful. I wonder how much of a consciousness there is about how horrible Wal-Mart is."

Nevertheless, Walmartopia has already captured the imagination of the New York press. Both The New Yorker and New York Newsday have tapped it as one of the festival's best bets. Rohn hopes a publicity event scheduled for the cast and crew in Times Square just after their arrival in New York will generate even more interest.

"When we did the Willy Street Fair last year, we marched in the parade with signs saying ‘Wal-Mart on Willy Street' "- sort of like the Billionaires for Bush thing," he laughs. "A lot of people went, ‘What? Wal-Mart's coming to Willy Street?' They really weren't sure if it was a joke. But we got a lot of attention. Maybe we can create a similar vibe after arriving in Times Square and looking like we're moving in."

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