The kiss of death for a reviewer is to walk into a production expecting one thing and getting another --especially if the unexpected performance is a children's show and the hall is packed with kids of all ages. So how brilliant it is to discover that Henry Krieger, Bill Russell and Jeffrey Hatcher's "Lucky Duck" is not only funny, heartwarming and musically solid, but that there wasn't a peep from the Berkeley Playhouse audience except well-deserved applause and laughter.
Naomi Hummel is Serena the Duck and William Hodgson is the Wolf. The story is a familiar hodgepodge of a million others -- Serena is the ugly duckling who yearns to be a superstar. The Wolf is trying desperately to turn over a new leaf, but carnivores are not to be trusted in a kingdom of birds. He battles his base instincts -- he has to decide whether to love Serena or eat her.
Other standout performances are by Benjamin Pither as Drake, Nicole C. Julien as Goosetella, and by Nick Nunez who plays a rather disinterested King but a fabulous Armand, the fashion designer.
We get coyotes and free range chickens and even a visit from the three little pigs.
It's all good fun but don't discount some very clever songs and a good 4-piece band, packed into a pit the size of a small chicken coop. You will probably leave the theater and wake up the next morning singing "Lucky Duck." We especially loved " A Helping Paw," "You Look Good Enough to Eat" and "Average, Simple, Mega Superstar."
Don't expect grand costume changes or sets that are anything more than the best they can do on a very limited budget. But do expect excellent material and performances that will make you sing like a bird.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Lucky Duck" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. The first two stars are for The Wolf and the Duck. They make us feel all quacky. The third star is for Kimberly Dooley's direction which is nothing short of miraculous on the Julia Morgan stage that looks more like the rec room at summer camp. And a well-deserved BANGLE OF PRAISE to all those little chickens and ducks who made us remember how much fun it is to be in a show -- and how good the audience feels when all the birds get it so right.
Julia Morgan Theater
2640 College Avenue, Berkeley
Through May 13
Photo credit: Larry Abel