Thursday, July 30, 2009

Click, Clack, Moo


Music by Brad Alexander, lyrics by Kevin Del Aguila, book by Billy Aronson. Dir. John Rando. Chor. Wendy Seyb. Lucille Lortel Theatre. (CLOSED)

Perhaps what it takes to unite critics is intelligent children's theater. Critics are delighted by Click, Clack, Moo, a musical about cows going on strike based on the book by Doreen Cronin. According to the reviews, the lyrics and choreography contain many inside jokes for the adults, while there are enough sight gags to amuse the children. The talented cast and lively sets (Beowulf Borritt) and costumes (Lora LaVon) also charm critics. And with its free admission, the price is right.

Variety A+
(Sam Thielman) The world finally has the musical about computer-literate livestock it deserves -- Brad Alexander, Kevin Del Aguila and Billy Aronson's tyke-tastic tuner, "Click, Clack, Moo," based on the Caldecott-winning kids' book. Hourlong Theaterworks USA show boasts adroit direction by "Urinetown" helmer John Rando and udderly charming turns from a cast that is having at least as much fun as its audience... Concerted efforts pay off big in aud attention. With the actors totally committed to this nutty world, surprisingly few outbursts puncture the atmosphere (although the occasional exasperated adult can be heard hissing "You just went!") -- a major accomplishment for a show with an age recommendation of 4 and up. Piece has plenty to amuse adults, too, especially with the director playing up the politicking between the recalcitrant farmer and his recently unionized pets. Book uses the striking barnyard to teach kids compromise, but with a tweak tweak here and a tweak tweak there, old John Rando gives it a little subversive edge, like a board-book version of "Das Kapital," or maybe "Animal Farm Lite."

Time Out New York A
(Adam Feldman) The premise is cute, and John Rando’s production milks it well. Kristy Cates lends her leathery belt to Maddie, the tough bovine ringleader; her barnmates are played by the fetching Gretchen Bieber and, in drag, the comedically astute Michael Thomas Holmes. Completing the cast are DeMond B. Nason as a saucy duck and Sarah Katherine Gee as the farmer’s granddaughter, whose computer and printer make it possible for the cows to articulate their demands. The light, amusing score and energetic cast make this a pleasant summer diversion for kids, with a worthy social message thrown in: that no worker need be cowed when it comes to speaking up, no matter how low.

Talkin' Broadway A
(Matthew Murray) Think of it as Waiting for Bossy. Click, Clack, Moo, the new TheatreworksUSA adaptation of Doreen Cronin’s award-winning 2000 children’s book, surely must be the first-ever children’s musical about labor organization. Yet despite its uncommon subject matter, this charming hour-long outing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre is so innocent and well-constructed that it won’t need long to sweep away you and your children on its tides of barnyard whimsy... John Rando, seldom light of hand when it comes to comedy, has directed with an uncharacteristically bubbliness that ensures fun infects every part of Click, Clack, Moo. There's an unapologetic Les Misérables homage in one number; one lyric proclaims “God bless the U.S.D.A.”; puppets cleverly represent a tractor and rhythm-filled pigs and geese; and Wendy Seyb’s choreography draws from just as many diverse (and comically astute) influences as the score, quoting everything from a hoedown to the Robot.

TheaterMania A
(Andy Propst) While kids will delight in Billy Aronson's clever book, older theatergoers will glean their amusement from the way in which composer Brad Alexander's music echoes Leonard Bernstein's work for West Side Story as the brawl between the groups unfolds. Similarly, the R&B-infused "Get Down" may amuse younger theatergoers with its infectious melody (and Nason's energetic performance), but lyricist Keven Del Aguila's deft handling of the double-meaning of "down" is really best appreciated by adults. John Rando's staging on the brightly colored-cartoon like set from Beowulf Boritt is fleet enough to ensure that even the youngest theatergoers are never bored while his directorial flourishes -- often collaboratively created with choreographer Wendy Seyb -- are truly for the more experienced audience members. Even Lora LaVon's costume design manages to delight all generations, which is no easy feat.

Backstage A
(Adam R. Perlman) As is usually the case with TheatreworksUSA's summer shows, there's considerable talent in all areas, with Tony Award winner John Rando directing, and Brad Alexander (music), Kevin Del Aguila (lyrics), and Billy Aronson (book) writing. Particularly memorable is the Lee Greenwood–inspired riff in the song "Loretta's Anthem" that goes "proud to be a bovine." My favorite touch, though, is Beowulf Boritt's bright scenic design, which once again proves that effects don't have to be expensive to be special.

CurtainUp A-
(Julia Furay) As anyone who is familiar with Old MacDonald or the Farmer in the Dell can testify, a farm show contains loads of potential for great songs. Though the music (by Theatreworks regular Brad Alexander) may not contain any future children's classics, the songs are tuneful and appropriately lively for this summery show. And the lyrics, by Altar Boyz author Kevin Del Aguila contains some gems likely to please adults as well as kids. "I'm proud to be bovine/God Bless the USDA" is a rousing and witty example. Beowulf Borrit's set is cartoonish fun, and Lora LaVon's costumes have real homemade charm. The cast is as winning and lively as we've come to expect from Theatreworks shows, with some nice moments of goofy stage business to make the kids scream with laughter.

Variety A+ 14; TONY A 13; Talkin' Broadway A 13; TheaterMania A 13; Backstage A 13; CurtainUp A- 12; TOTAL: 78/6 = 13 (A)

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