Cities with well-established and nationally recognized professional regional theater should consider themselves lucky. These towns get to see talented performers and new works usually reserved only for New York City, Toronto, or London. Cincinnati is one such city that should be proud of their Playhouse in the Park. Playhouse's latest effort, Everything's Ducky, is a slick and funny musical version of the famous ugly duckling tale and proves to be quite satisfying to the palate (and all the other senses too).
Packed full of "fowl" puns, animal jokes, and modern pop culture references, this musical delivers non-stop laughs (and groans) through its strong book. Everything's Ducky follows ugly duckling Serena from her days as the oddball of the barnyard to her attempt to win the Silver Jubilee Songbird contest (in celebration of 25 years of non-carnivore rule) and a date with Prince Drake. Along her journey to "find her song", she gets sidetracked as a dancer in the seedy "Poultry In Motion" nightclub, has a brief stint as a supermodel, and befriends a not so innocent Wolf. The Book writers Bill Russell and Jeffrey Hatcher have penned smart dialogue and winning jokes that come so quickly that one may need multiple viewings to catch them all.
The score, with music by Henry Krieger and lyrics by Russell (the team that brought Side Show to Broadway), has its moments and never distracts from this clever modern telling of the classic coming-of-age story. While the music is not of the strong soulful nature of Krieger's Dreamgirls or Side Show, it does serve the story well and is tuneful. Highlights of the score include "That's One Ugly Duck," "You've Got Wings to Fly," "I'd Love to Sing a Love Song," and "Don't Start Playing My Swan Song." With song titles like "Wipe the Egg Off Your Face (and Make A Great Big Omelet)," it is easy to see that the puns and humor of the book extend to the shows lyrics as well.
Everything's Ducky is performed by a great cast, many of whom have Broadway credentials. Tracey Conyer Lee, Mark Chiemel, Jonathon Brody, Bobby Daye, Alicia Irving, J.B. Wing, and Angela Pupello all shine in multiple supporting roles. Tony Capone is more than capable as Prince Drake. As Wolf, Tony nominee (for Drood) John Herrera is classy and just "bad" enough. In the lead role of Serena, Natalie Toro is magnificent. The pint-sized Ms. Toro displays a powerful voice and the perfect amount of vulnerability and naive innocence that the role requires.
The inspired set design by Robert Bissinger puts the action in the bedroom of a little girl, with her toys playing out their owner's favorite story. Props such as a huge bed, puppets of various sizes and types, and even live extras known as Facilitators (roles taken by four local actors) are used in many inventive and effective ways. Beaver Bouer's costumes are playful and bright, and evoke just enough hint of each animal for recognition without covering the human stories being told. The only area in need of some improvement is the choreography. While not bad, the dances and movement by Linda Goodrich do not stand up to the higher standards met by the rest of the creative team.
Everything's Ducky is a joint production of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (where it played before coming to Cincinnati) and Playhouse in the Park and runs through November 17. Director Gip Hoppe has hatched a winning egg. The show moves on to Los Angeles after Cincinnati and then possibly more tour dates or New York. The simple, yet fully professional tale, should enjoy a long and prosperous life for years to come.
-- Scott Cain