From the Chicago Sun-Times
‘Duck’ should win family vote by a landslide
October 17, 2008
By Jennifer Burklow
There’s no need to wait for the returns on this one. Lifeline Theatre has a ballot-winning hit in its world premiere of “Duck for President,” a musical adaptation of Doreen Cronin’s best-selling children’s book.
Although “Duck” targets kids 5 to 10 years old, adults will find a lot to enjoy in this whimsical send up of American politics.
Created by the same team that brought Cronin’s “Click Clack Moo” to the stage — James E. Grote (adaptor, lyrics), George Howe (music and lyrics) and Shole Milos (director) — “Duck for President” takes the audience on a fast-paced, humorous journey through the election process and kicks off Lifeline’s 2008-2009 KidSeries season.
It all starts on Farmer Brown’s (Tom Weber) farm, where the good farmer is fed up with doing all the work while the barnyard residents have all the fun. So Brown gives each animal chores to do. After a day of hard work, the farm’s denizens decide to unseat Farmer Brown with an election.
Egged on by Pig (Heather Currie), happy-go-lucky Duck (David Fink) throws his beak in the ring, wins and finds himself farmer. From there, we’re off on a rollicking ride through gubernatorial and presidential elections as Pig’s aspirations for Duck grow more ambitious.
The script and lyrics remain true to Cronin’s story, cleverly explaining the election process to kids without talking down to them. To keep adults tuned in, “Duck” deftly works in references to the current presidential election, Richard Nixon, YouTube, “American Idol” and more. Grote’s script also creates distinct personalities for Duck’s barnyard friends, who travel the campaign trail with him.
Howe’s music moves from bouncy pop tunes like show opener “Working the Live-Long Day” to ballads to sultry rhythm and blues with Motown moves.
The wonderfully expressive Fink brings endearing energy to fun-loving Duck, who takes on more than he can handle. Currie steals scenes as the conniving, power-hungry Pig with a voice of gold. Weber plays the all-knowing Farmer Brown (and several other roles) with a sly sense of humor. Christina Hall is udderly believable as capricious Cow and Amanda Link charms as always-honest Hen.
Katie Schweiger’s set evokes the work of “Duck” illustrator Betsy Lewin with the seemingly hand-drawn barnyard and election bunting outlined in black. Jana Anderson’s delightful costumes create believable barnyard animals (Cow even has udders).
From the Chicago Reader
October 21, 2008
By Jack Helbig
This high-spirited adaptation by James E. Grote, with songs by Grote and George Howe, captures the wit, wild wordplay, and playful energy of Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin’s children’s book, about the career of a clever but lazy duck who gets involved in politics to avoid hard work. The performances are uniformly charming; David Fink is especially winning as the titular Duck. Katie Schweiger’s set design brilliantly recreates the world of Lewin’s illustrations. Most impressive of all, the show works as both a civics lesson and wry political satire, which means it entertains both children and adults–although my seven-year-old was puzzled by the big laugh the grownups gave a moment when the female Pig who runs as Duck’s VP puts on lipstick.
From Chicago Stage Review
October 20, 2008
By Robert Andersen
If only… Everyday politics were this easy; A candidate doesn’t require experience; Promises don’t need to be kept; A pig can run a campaign… Hey wait a minute!
Lifeline Theatre’s current KidSeries production of Duck for President offers a whimsical lesson on our political process for both young and old. This is not a new story, but I find myself at a disadvantage since Duck for President is not part of my personal library or the Oprah “Book of the Month Club.” Whenever I have to form an impression of an adapted work I prefer to do a little research or have a sounding board to bounce things off of and so I turned to my well-read 10-year-old daughter Emma for guidance.
Here’s the impression that I got from her. “The show was really funny; it was a lot like the book. The book didn’t say anything about singing though. The songs were fun and everyone danced good (sic). My favorite animal was Hen. She had the funniest lines. I would have voted for her instead of Duck. If I was in the show I would want to be the Farmer, he got to be a bunch of different people. I would tell my friends about the show and they should see it.” What more needs to be said?
The world premiere musical adaptation of Doreen Cronin’s story is delightful. James E. Grote and George Howe’s collaborative efforts hit the mark. The stage play brings all of the characters and action to vibrant life. The musical score is bouncy and poignant. Although a couple of the songs seem to go a little long, the cast effortlessly moves them along. The three actresses have wonderful voices and work the harmonies well. Combined with some nice choreography the “girls of the yard” bring a nice “Andrews sisters-esqe” and Aretha Franklin quality to the table. The men have nice voices in their own rights, however “Duck” seems to be slightly lacking. The action flows swiftly, which is essential for the younger audiences. There is a nice mix of child and grown-up comedy but the actors seem to be holding back. It is difficult to tell if they aren’t given the freedom to take it closer to the top as there seems to be plenty of opportunities.
While this is a delightful lesson in politics for the kids and the camp value for the adults keeps you smiling, I don’t think they explored all of the potential possibilities. Still, Duck for President is a great show and the timing is perfect for creating early political dialogue and awareness with children.