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[whitespace] Good Egg: Angela Robinson fends off the attentions of Michael McEachran (left) and David McDonald in 'Everything's Ducky.'

Swan Songs

An egg makes good in TheatreWorks' fairy-tale musical 'Everything's Ducky'

By Heather Zimmerman

ONCE UPON A TIME, fairy tales weren't just bedtime stories, but cautionary lessons, with some gloomy plot twists that have since been edited for modern tastes. Girls were warned about the sinister motives of male strangers with the original version of "Little Red Riding Hood," and back then, she didn't escape becoming the wolf's dinner.

Bill Russell, Jeffrey Hatcher and Henry Krieger resurrect a sense of this old-school peril but also play up the fairy-tale fancy for Everything's Ducky, their musical retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling." The result is a deceptively simple fable for grown-ups--"The Ugly Duckling" with touches of "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood" and Animal Farm. Everything's Ducky receives its world premiere in an entertaining production by TheatreWorks that will set the bar high for future productions of the show.

A foundling egg adopted by a duck family, Serena (Angela Robinson) faces cruelty in the barnyard because of her unusual looks. And you thought Hansel and Gretel's family was dysfunctional: Her snobbish mother and sisters reveal Serena's adoption (and Serena, in turn, her dislike for them) with the hilarious swing-inspired "Glad I'm Not Related to You."

The king and queen announce a song contest to celebrate the anniversary of the vegetarian law of the kingdom and to find a mate for the dashing--and royally dim--prince, Drake (Michael McEachran). Venturing into the woods to practice her song, Serena--no surprise here--befriends Wolf (David McDonald), who is, after all, an avowed vegan (and who wouldn't want to trust a wolf who so sincerely sings that he wants to lend "A Helping Paw?").

With Wolf's help, Serena, who realizes that she is a swan, becomes a supermodel. Her allure, however, awakens the carnivorous urges in Wolf, who enlists the Coyote brothers (Bobby Daye and Josh Prince) to start a meat-eaters' uprising. In spite of his dinner plans, Serena chooses to believe the best about Wolf.

Convoluted as the plot may sound, the book, by Russell and Hatcher, is full of fun one-liners, double entendres and creative, if jokey, touches (coyotes run a strip club, models dress themselves as peacocks). Russell's lyrics retain the wit of the script and are well-matched by Krieger's energetic songs.

Director Gip Hoppe makes the most of a superb cast, who, incidentally, couldn't fit their roles better, particularly Robinson, who exudes a swanlike grace but puts considerable power behind her songs. McDonald, as Wolf, possesses an almost evilly smooth voice, persuasive and alarming at the same time. McEachran coaxes a charmingly awkward soulfulness from Drake's outward conceitedness.

For a show that warns against judging on appearances, this production is nevertheless visually wonderful. Beaver Bauer has created a collection of imaginative, over-the-top costumes that wonderfully evoke each animal, and Robert Bissinger's sets are pure storybook whimsy.

And whimsy is the very best thing about Everything's Ducky; Russell, Hatcher and Krieger have crafted a grownup romp that revels in silliness and play but still exhibits enough sophistication to convey Andersen's original message without any sugar-coating.

In fact, this musical skewers the ever-present obsession with looks to the point of proving most of us can still benefit from the moral of Andersen's tale, and happily this fractured fairy tale offers not only an updated "Ugly Duckling" but also a new kind of "Little Red Riding Hood" that advises not so much against trusting strangers as in favor of trusting ourselves.

Everything's Ducky plays Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm (plus Saturday, Feb. 5, at 2pm) and Sunday at 2pm through Feb. 13, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $20-$37. (650.903.6000)

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From the February 3-9, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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