nytheatre.com review by Rohana Elias-Reyes
March 17, 2012
Re-imagine Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” as a cross between Cinderella and A Star is Born, throw in the Big Bad Wolf as an agent, and tensions between a carnivore underclass and a ruling class of their former prey, and you have Coterie Theater’s Lucky Duck, a very kid-friendly musical now showing at the New Victory.
Kicked out of a singing contest because of her looks, and told by her adoptive mother that she is not wanted, Serena, an ugly duckling with a fantastic set of pipes, decides to follow her dream of becoming a superstar. On her journey to New Duck City, she runs into the Big “Good” Wolf in the woods. Upon hearing her sing, he instantly decides he is going to make her a star. Through various twists and turns that involve a pair of coyotes, Chicken Little, some hysterical high fashion stereotypes, and one of the characters getting eaten (offstage of course)...they all live happily ever after.
My six-year-old enjoyed every minute. His favorite parts were things you might expect a little kid to love: broad characterizations, people quacking, bright and silly costumes, energetic live music, physical humor, and a scene in which one character makes an entrance swinging in on rope, while another pops up through the floor. With the exception of the superfluous framing device of the show being a radio drama with those in attendance serving as the studio audience, he had no problem following the story.
Which isn’t to say Lucky Duck is the equivalent of a Little Golden Book easy-reader with nothing for adults to enjoy. Coterie Theater seems to take its tongue-in-cheek, sometimes slightly campy humor seriously, and everything is very well executed. Henry Krieger, Bill Russell, and Jeffrey Hatcher, the team behind the clever music, lyrics and book, have impressive Broadway and off-Broadway credits. (Dreamgirls and Side Show to name just two.) The cast is great, the live music infectious, and the design is both kid-friendly and smart. The show also retains vestiges of bawdy humor from a previous incarnation that wasn’t intended for family audiences, and those jokes fly over the kids’ heads and land direct hits with the parents. Lucky Duck also provides a great twist on the usual children’s musical that ends with a simple saccharine moral tied up in a bow. Instead, it acknowledges and embraces an ambiguous message about whether or not you can judge a book by its cover and that, along with the uniformly high level of execution from everyone involved—from the creative team to the designers to the performers—is what makes Lucky Duck more than just a fun fluffy piece of eiderdown. Not only did my kid laugh himself silly during the show, he actually had to think about it afterwards.