Everything's Ducky, the audience-favorite musical that takes "The Ugly Ducking" story one step further to show what happens after the duck after becomes a swan, gets its Chicago-area premiere at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, IL, Dec. 5-Jan. 6, 2002.
For the Northlight staging, composer Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls), lyricist and co-librettist Bill Russell (Pageant) and co-librettist Jeffrey Hatcher (Three Viewings, Scotland Road) have reconsidered the material and added two new songs, trimmed the past cast size from 10 to 8 and are testing new book material. Marc Robin directs and choreographs the Illinois production in close collaboration with the creative team. Gip Hoppe previously helmed resident productions in 2000 in Palto Alto, CA, St. Louis, Cincinnati and La Mirada, CA.
"We've worked very hard to activate Serena, the main character," lyricist and co-librettist Russell told Playbill On-Line. "We wanted to make her more active. There's new book material — we're always trying to clarify the story."
The playful, theatrical musical comedy has themes of emotional journey, innocence and experience and transformation in it. The small cast is invited to be playful and theatrical as they double in roles.
An audience hit in previous stagings, Everything's Ducky has caught the ear of New York producers who are expected to see the revised show at Northlight, the nonprofit that staged the world premiere of Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years earlier this year. The idea of the show was Russell's and he brought it to Krieger. The two had caused a sensation on Broadway with their Tony Award-nominated score for Side Show, a daring, short-lived 1997 musical (with book by Russell) about conjoined twins. The she has since become popular in regional theatres and remains the No. 1 box office hit in the history of Northlight.
"After Side Show, Henry and I were looking to do something light and Henry suggested, 'What about a fairy tale of some kind?,'" Russell said. "I remembered the 'Little Golden Book' version of 'The Ugly Duckling,' which is a total of maybe eight pages, and at the end the duckling became a swan. I don't even think it specifies the gender, but in my mind, it was always a girl. When were thinking of a project, I thought, 'Disney hasn't gotten to it yet,' but what really interested me wasn't what happened [before] she became beautiful. I was interested in what happened afterward."
TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, CA, was the first company to present Side Show after Broadway, and it became the second highest grossing show in the troupe's history. Artistic director Robert Kelley asked what else Russell and Krieger had up their sleeve and Everything's Ducky subsequently got its premiere there in January 2000 and became the company's highest grosser ever.
In Everything's Ducky, Serena (played in Skokie by Miss Illinois 2000 Jenny Powers) "she becomes the hottest supermodel in the kingdom and has whole series of adventures."
Russell explained, "It's got an eclectic style. Because this is set in an animal kingdom and is a total fantasy piece, we weren't constricted to any style. We felt like we could do anything: There's blues, rock, jazzy stuff, a lot of Fats Waller feeling. There's a disco number."
The Northlight cast includes Stephanie Bickel, Sean Blake, George Keating, Sean Allen Krill, Rachel Rockwell, Sam Samuelson and Tari Kelly, playing such roles as Mrs. Bovine, Millicent Mallard, Clem Coyote, Prince Drake, Free Range Chicken and Wolf.
Designers are Beaver Bauer (original costumes), Jeff Hendry (new costumes), Todd Hensley (lights), Angela Weber-Miller (set), Ray Nardelli (sound). Musical director is Brad Haak, leading a six musician band.
Tickets range $32-$45. Official opening for Everything's Ducky is Dec. 12. Performances are at the 800-seat Centre East theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. For information, call (847) 673-6300 or visit www.northlight.org.
— By Kenneth Jones