OREM — “Different isn’t naughty. Different isn’t bad,” sings the main character—named Ugly—in Honk! Based on Hans Christian Andersen‘s story of the ugly duckling, Honk! explores the ostracism and feelings of loneliness that the main character experiences because he looks different from the other ducks. Ugly also gets lost and tries to return to his mother (Sydney Frei). Along the way he meets many different types of animals in a storyline structure vaguely reminiscent of The Odyssey.
Although this was a youth theatre production, the creative staff at the SCERA didn’t shortchange Honk! in their efforts to create a high quality show. Shawn Mortensen‘s set design was functional, evocative of the countryside setting of the play, and pleasing to look at. The raked platform at stage right was an especially nice set piece, as it created a raised space that the director used several times as a gathering place for characters. Brodee Ripple‘s costume designs were all creative and fun. Rather than create animal suits or try to make the actors realistically look like animals, Ripple gave them stylized clothing that vaguely evoked the look of the animal that each actor was supposed to be. For example, the female chickens all had a country dress with small bustle that represented (rather well) tail feathers. Likewise, the green swim caps for the frogs, the stockings for the geese, and other articles of clothing were excellently used to create a distinctive feel for each type of animal.
Director Kathryn Little handled the episodic nature of the play well, as the events of the play flowed naturally from one to another. Little was also able to establish an appropriate mood for each scene, such as the silly geese scene (with help from Jacob Donaldson, who played Greylag as a goose who took himself far too seriously) or the ominous scene in the cat’s home. Little also knew how to create pathos for Ugly, especially in “Look at Him” and “Different,” both of which made me feel sorry for the character. Finally, Little deserves commendation for her ability to create visually interesting stage pictures in songs like “The Elegy” and the first scene of the second act.
In addition to costuming the production, Ripple served as Honk!‘s choreographer. The fun tango in “Together,” the charming militaristic dancing in “The Wild Goose Chase,” and the ballet-inspired “The Blizzard” all added an element of fantasy and spectacle to the evening. None of the choreography was very complex, but Ripple made the dancing look crisp and satisfying.
Caleb Gardner’s sweet, emotional portrayal of Ugly was a nice performance. Gardner understood Ugly’s status as an outsider and the loneliness that the character feels. He was also very good at showing Ugly’s curiosity of the world around him (such as when he meets the bullfrog played by Ashley Garvin). I appreciated Gardner’s transformation scene because it showed that Ugly’s appearance had changed, but not his personality. However, the most noteworthy performance was by Sydney Frei as Ida (Ugly’s mother duck). Frei had an excellent maternal bond with her onstage children, and it was fun to watch her concern for her son who didn’t fit in with the other ducks at the farm. Because Frei had used “Hold Your Head Up High” to show the relationship between her character and Ugly it became believable that she would leave her other ducklings with their father and search for the lost Ugly.
Several other youth actors in Honk! also created strong performances. Tanner Scott Wood was suitable in the role of Drake, Ida’s husband, and Wood excellently showed how his character also experienced a change in the course of the play. Ellie Benson was fun as the goose Dot as she delivered her jokes with a complete seriousness that made them funnier than if she had been explicitly trying to be funny. Finally, Alayna Betts played Maureen, Ida’s faithful friend, and she showed the compassion that the character has to have for Ida.
Now even though I’ve been generous with my compliments about this production, it should be clear that the evening was not flawless. I found George Stiles music and the script and lyrics by Anthony Drewe to be boring. There’s not a lot of story in Honk!, and it’s stretched out for over two hours. It feels more like a production for young audiences than an adult full-length musical. But the director, choreographer, and the performers took the material completely seriously, which is a sign of the young cast’s commitment to the craft of acting.
Nevertheless, Honk! is a cute show that showcases the talents of the young people of Utah County. SCERA’s Acting Up! troupe has a production that will create many fond memories for the cast, their families, and their friends.