Los Angeles Theater Review: LUCKY DUCK (South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa)

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by Tony Frankel on February 22, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles


Some readers have taken umbrage with me when I criticize shows that are meant to be nothing more than entertaining light comedies, such as Rock Of Ages and The Catholic Girl’s Guide To Losing Your Virginity, insinuating that only intellectual stimulation will suffice for a satisfying theatrical experience. Well, here’s your chance to prove me wrong: run to see Lucky Duck, a Theatre for Young Audiences production at SCR. This musical retelling of The Ugly Duckling story is fast, funny, adorable, uplifting, good-hearted, and satisfying.

Serena (Jamey Hood) is the ugly duckling who is blessed with great pipes, but suffers in the “looks” department. When the King (Tom Shelton) and his vain son, Prince Drake (Jeffrey Christopher Todd) hold a competition for the best songbird in the land, Serena is belittled by her family, The Mallards (Renee Brna, Gloria Garayua and Amy Tolsky), and told that she is a foundling. She runs to the forest and helps a Wolf (Brian Ibsen) whose leg is caught in a trap; this Wolf happens to be a slick agent (and alleged vegetarian) who convinces Serena to seek her fame and fortune in New Duck City. (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper rounds out the cast in a hilarious take as an auditioning Free-Range Chicken.)

Dreamgirls composer Henry Kreiger has written some bouncy melodies, while lyricist and book writer Bill Russell charms with his lyrics. The book, by Russell and Jeffrey Hatcher, is decidedly bent to an adult audience, but the children in attendance were riveted because the story is chock full of morals and three-dimensional characters. (When the King derides the Wolf with, “Well, I don’t lick myself,” the Wolf replies, “You would if you could.”)

Art Manke’s direction is swift and flawless, but it is his choreography that dazzles with an infectiousness rarely seen in the theatre. Since these animals walk and talk like humans, wait until you see Angela Balough Calin’s costumes – the feathered wigs, the Wolf coat, the colored stockings; they are easily the best costume design seen in the theatre all year. Fred Kinney’s sets and Jaymi Lee Smith’s lights are so colorful and vibrant that you may feel as if you are inside an animated movie. Thank you to the prolific Cricket S. Myers: I never fail to miss a word when she is responsible for sound.

Don’t let the title “Theatre for Young Audiences” fool you: each of the performers is seasoned and mega-talented. Remember that kids are a tough crowd; story, imagination, innovation and colorful characters are all required to keep their attention. These are the qualities which sorely lack in too many so-called light comedies as well as drama. Even the occasional weakness in writing doesn’t stall Lucky Duck. Those seeking to showcase themselves need look no further than this show to see what really elates an audience. This is one bird that really flies!

photos by Henry DiRocco/SCR

Lucky Duck
South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa
scheduled to end on February 27, 2011
for tickets, visit http://www.scr.org/

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