Set in the year 3,000,458,000 B.C. at the bottom of the primordial sea, Yeast Nation tells the tale of the first living organisms on earth, a society of salt-eating yeast who struggle for power and survival. And from the toga-like costumes to the presence of Tony winner Harriet Harris as a comically shrieky, bug-eyed narrator, the musical borrows heavily from the style of Greek tragedy.
It also seems to be borrowing heavily from Urinetown. That show's oppressive authority figure, idealistic young couple, and narrator accompanied by a precocious child companion all have their counterparts in Yeast Nation. Here, where too much gorging on salt and asexual reproduction has resulted in trouble for the floating yeasts, the king (George McDaniel) decides to enforce "the strictures," dictating that yeasts are to eat in moderation, avoid reproduction, and stay close to the bottom of the sea. But when the king's own beloved son (Erik Altemus) is inspired to explore the surface, a brand new threat is revealed.
The notion of examining a group of simple organisms as they first encounter the sorrows and joys of life -- love, betrayal, ambition, and murder all figure into the plot -- is a great one. And when Yeast Nation embraces the daffiness of its basic premise, it's a lot of fun. Unfortunately, these single-celled characters lack the dimension to make the considerable time spent on their emotional outpourings and political maneuverings sufficiently interesting.
-- Brooke Pierce