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'Oedipus for Kids!' musical, written on a dare, returns

The three-person show at 54 Below is not actually for kids, if you didn't catch on.

"Oedipus For Kids!" a spoof of children's theater, is returning to New York City for the first time in 11 years at 54 Below on Nov. 18. Photo Credit: Jori Klein

“Oedipus For Kids!” follows a three-person arts-in-education troupe attempting to put on a child-friendly version of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex.”

And if you know anything about Greek mythology, you know this tragedy is not for kids – but that’s the joke.

The show, which first debuted in 2006 and hasn’t been performed in the city since then, is back for a one-night performance on Saturday at 11:30 p.m. – to ensure no kids actually see it, co-writer and lyricist Gil Varod said.

“There’s a fine line this show has to walk between being comedically offensive and just offensive,” Varod said. “If you don’t get the title, then you’re probably not the right audience.”

Within the play, we find The Fuzzy Duck Theater Company, coming off its successes with “Uncle Tommy’s Cabin” and “Titus Andronicus Bakes a Cake,” undertaking the staging of the Sophocles classic but wanting to tell it via a kid-friendly format.

In the real “Oedipus Rex,” the title character is searching for the murderer of King Laius, his biological father, in order to end a plague ravaging Thebes, but doesn’t know the killer is himself. He also find out that he’s married his mother and gouges his eyes out after his mother hangs herself.

“The people seem really cursed and wonder if anybody has done anything particularly gross,” Varod explains. “It’s Sophocles looking for the answer.”

Of course, the kids musical production – with songs like “My Lover is My Husband is My Son,” “A Little Complex” and “What’s It Like When Ya Get the Plague?” – doesn’t go as planned.

Act one explains Oedipus’ background, while act two is the retelling of “Oedipus Rex.” But it essentially turns into a messed up version of “Blues Clues,” – a fun treasure hunt, Varod added.

The children’s theater spoof was made back in 2006 on a dare by co-writer Kimberly Patterson, who said it would be impossible to translate the story for a young audience.

“Most of the lessons learned from Greek mythology have to do with ‘Zeus wants something, so make sure he gets it,’ and ‘if he turns into a swan to have sex with you, you better let Zeus go ahead,’ ” Varod explained.

Varod took the challenge, but instead, he created a version about the struggles of one theater group trying to force it to happen.

Ten years is a long time not to update the story, so for its official return, Varod and his team, including writer Robert J. Saferstein, condensed it into a concert version and updated some of the lyrics.

In one scene, a tap-dancing duo tries to teach kids what it’s like to be blind while they toss canes at each other. It’s now less about watching someone blind and more about one person trying to educate the audience and call out the other person who feeds into stereotypes. 

“It was more offensive,” Varod said. “I don’t know if my sensibilities are different enough or if I am just more woke. It’s a lot of fun, and if the title appeals to you, you will love it.”

Jennifer Tepper, the creative and programming director at 54 Below, saw the show at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2006 and thought it was “uproariously funny,” she said.

“I love bringing musicals in concert to our stage, whether they are old or new, well known or underappreciated,” she said, explaining she was brainstorming musicals in concert for the venue’s 2017 calendar year. “I thought of ‘Oedipus For Kids!’ and invited the writers to bring their show back to the New York stage through a concert at our venue. We’re looking forward to new audiences discovering this clever, wacky, intelligent show.”

Directed by Jenn Haltman and starring James Lloyd Reynolds, Bonnie Milligan and Kennedy Kanagawa, the show is at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 W. 54th St. There is a $20 to $45 cover charge and $20 food and drink minimum.

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