A hip new musical comedy, Walmartopia, projects a future so horrible it must be stopped. It's 2035 and State Street, the former epicenter of friendly family businesses, has been transformed into a Wal-Mart empire.

The creators of the vision: Andrew Rohn and Catherine Capellaro, a Madison-based husband-and-wife team. The couple, both in their early 40s, was inspired to write this hysterical two-act musical comedy after reading a string of news articles about Wal-Mart's sex-discrimination practices.

Starting this week, Madison theatergoers can witness the impact of this huge socio-political issue at the Bartell Theater (113 East Mifflin Street), a nonprofit community playhouse located right off Capitol Square.

Unlike traditional musicals, the sounds of Walmartopia are inspired by world beats, creating a fusion of sounds ranging from African and Latin to American rock and roll. Rohn, the composer, applies his eclectic musical background to invent some of the most original sounds in Madison, using a range of instruments from a simple electric guitar to a gong or an Indonesian gamelan. The well-rehearsed live band has an exceptional ability to genre jump, with a scene featuring a Tango song proceeding another with a feel of electronica, for instance. Theatergoers will adore songs like "Hijack It," "Nibbled to Death by Guppies" and "Think Outside the Big Box."

As for the play itself, the protagonist, Vicki, is a Wal-Mart associate and struggling single mom frustrated with the company's unjust employment policies. In the protagonist's early days, Vicki emits smiles and energy, but when a younger, less experienced co-worker earns a promotion, her faith in the company quickly wanes. Her disillusionment with Wal-Mart's sex-discrimination practices, in favor of male workers, influences her to speak out against the world's largest company. As a model employee, she has the opportunity to visit Wal-Mart's Bentonville headquarters and share an outrageous tune with the CEO at a corporate board meeting.

For comedy fans, this eye-opening, hilarious play will make your belly ache — the compilation of smart dialogue and catchy lyrics focuses on the struggle of the little guy, while mocking the people in power.

The volunteer cast — members of Mercury Players Production — has the talent and vigor of professional actors, but stem from all walks of life. Like the play's subject matter, focusing on the controversies of American big business, the actors look and feel like Wal-Mart employees, said Capallaro in an interview with the Herald.

"Less than one-third of them have degrees in theater, and the cast ranges from Mercury veterans to recent Edgewood and UW-Madison graduates."

And like the actors, the playwrights Rohn and Capallaro are in touch with the harsh realities conveyed in "Walmartopia." During the day, Rohn works as a massage therapist at University Health Services and Capallaro serves as managing editor of Re-Thinking Schools, a Milwaukee-based educational reform magazine.

Since its opening, "Walmartopia" has received nothing but standing ovations. For ticket information, call (608) 661-YoYo, or visit www.walmartopia.com. Five-dollar discount tickets are available to students on Dec. 14, Dec. 28, and Jan. 11.