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Click, Clack, Moo

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Click, Clack, Moo
Kristy Cates, Sarah Katherine Gee, Gretchen Bieber, Drew McVety, and Michael Thomas Holmes.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Think of it as Waiting for Bossy. Click, Clack, Moo, the new TheatreworksUSA adaptation of Doreen Cronin’s award-winning 2000 children’s book, surely must be the first-ever children’s musical about labor organization. Yet despite its uncommon subject matter, this charming hour-long outing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre is so innocent and well-constructed that it won’t need long to sweep away you and your children on its tides of barnyard whimsy.

Billy Aronson’s book tells the simple tale of a trio of cows (Gretchen Bieber, Kristy Cates, and Michael Thomas Holmes) so fed up with shivering through their nights in the barn belonging to Farmer Brown (Drew McVety) that they commandeer a laptop and printer from his granddaughter, Jenny (Sarah Katherine Gee), and use them to demand electric blankets. Brown balks and the cows strike, refusing to produce their top-quality milk. When the chickens hike up their feathers in a sympathy protest, peace can only restored by means of an arbitrator, a Duck (DeMond B. Nason) who’s willing to quack some heads. (Sorry, sorry.)

Adults and more technologically aware youngsters will need to supercharge their suspension-of-disbelief batteries to navigate the exposition. (In the original book, the cows pounded away on an abandoned manual typewriter, which makes a great deal more sense.) But few additional compromises from playgoers of any age are required, because the production and writing are consistently thoughtful and engaging.

Delightful sets (by Beowulf Boritt) and costumes (Lora LaVon) are inspired by Betsy Lewin’s original artwork, giving show the appearance of a living Technicolor comic book. And the songs from lyricist Kevin Del Aguila (the talented librettist of Altar Boyz) and composer Brad Alexander span styles ranging from country blues (for the Cows’ chilling lament, “Cold”) and doo-wop (Jenny’s insistent “Your Way or the Highway”) to funk (for the Duck, the cleverly titled “Get Down”) and even elementary-school simplicity (“The Farm of Farmer Brown” pays winking homage to the classic of the form, “Old MacDonald”).

John Rando, seldom light of hand when it comes to comedy, has directed with an uncharacteristically bubbliness that ensures fun infects every part of Click, Clack, Moo. There's an unapologetic Les Misérables homage in one number; one lyric proclaims “God bless the U.S.D.A.”; puppets cleverly represent a tractor and rhythm-filled pigs and geese; and Wendy Seyb’s choreography draws from just as many diverse (and comically astute) influences as the score, quoting everything from a hoedown to the Robot.

The actors also bring an effortless effervescence to their roles. McVety strikes the proper good-natured bluster for Brown and Gee is a sterling-spunky Jenny. Bieber, Cates, and Holmes make for divine bovines, but special note must be made of Cates’s spectacularly soulful solo at the top of “Cold.” (She was, unsurprisingly, an early-and-often Elphaba in Wicked.) Nason is fine as the Duck, but doesn’t go quite as far as the others in making him a down-to-earth, kid-friendly caricature.

He sometimes makes for a slight dip in energy, but this show is otherwise entertaining enough that you’ll barely notice it. Nor will kids suspect that they’re actually learning about capitalism and big business along the way. And because the show, which runs through August 28, is free, it’s an excellent way to defy the troublesome economy that may have put a crimp in your family’s theatregoing. Click, Clack, Moo may not replace Orwell’s Animal Farm or Odets’s rabble-rousing dramas as timeless political literature, but it’s nonetheless a smart, stylish, and smile-provoking musical that milks the possibilities of its genre for all they’re worth.


Click, Clack, Moo
Through August 28
Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street between Bleecker and Bedford Streets
Running Time: 1 hour, with no intermission
Tickets are FREE, the current Performance Schedule is online at: www.TheatreWorksUSA.org