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‘LUCK!’ Needs A Little Luck

‘LUCK!’ Needs A Little Luck

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

Luck is always in high demand for characters in musicals. From “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” in “Guys and Dolls” to “With a Little Bit of Luck” in “My Fair Lady,” good fortune can make all the difference in a character’s romantic and financial prospects.

Now, just after Purim, comes “LUCK!”— a staged reading, directed by Michelle Tattenbaum, of a Brad Ross (“Little by Little”) and Mark Waldrop (“When Pigs Fly”) musical. Based on “Mazel and Shlimazel,” a 1967 children’s book by Isaac Bashevis Singer, “LUCK!” runs next Monday night at The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.

In the musical, Shlimazel (Michael Farina) makes a bet with his nemesis, Mazel (Michele Ragusa), that he can destroy in a second what Mazel takes a year to accomplish. Mazel finds a poor peasant boy, Tam (Matt Dengler), with whom he has a princess (Taylor Louderman) fall in love. But in the end, Tam needs all of his ingenuity to outwit the machinations of a Haman-like prime minister, Kamtsan (James Moye), survive the reversal of fortune engineered by Shlimazel, and keep Mazel on his side.

“LUCK!” is the second installment in a new JCC musical theater series. The first program, which took place last month, brought New York magazine writer Jesse Green to the JCC for a conversation with composer Jason Robert Brown. “LUCK!” will be followed in April with another staged reading, “The Story of Jo-Beth,” also directed by Tattenbaum, which is based on the Book of Job.

In an interview, Waldrop told The Jewish Week that he was “charmed” by the Singer book, with its Maurice Sendak-like illustrations by Margot Zemach, when Ross brought it to him more than a decade ago. “It’s a wacky folk tale,” he said, “with the commendable moral that the secret of luck is to make your own.”

Waldrop, who wrote the book and lyrics to Ross’ music, called “LUCK!” a combination of “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Once Upon a Mattress.” It’s a “good world to write for,” he said, “zany and irreverent, but with an earthiness from Singer that feels like there is real mud caked on people’s shoes.”

While it was previously staged at the York Theatre Company in 2009 with Faith Price in a leading role, “LUCK!” has never had a commercial run, despite Sheldon Harnick (“Fiddler”) and Burton Lane (“Finian’s Rainbow”) owning the rights to it at one point. The creative team hopes that the reading at the JCC will rekindle interest from potential investors who will see the musical as worthy of a full production. That, they agree, would be the luckiest break of all.

“LUCK!” will be presented on Monday, March 4 at 7 p.m. at The JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. For tickets, $10 (members) /$15 (non-members), call the box office at (646) 505-5708.

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