No Ugly Ducklings in Star Struck’s HONK!

by W. Fred Crow, The Arts
Fremont Bulletin – December 27, 2003

Star Struck Musical Theatre strikes gold again, this time with the award-winning musical, “HONK!,” written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The talented duo adapted the gentle tale of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling” to music and stage. Fairly new to these American shores, “HONK!” is the enchanting tale that reaches children through the frolicking nonsense of some off-the-wall barnyard characters, and will still delight the not so young with a deeper sense of fun with meaning.

Director Lori Stokes, enjoying the quality and size of the Jackson Theatre, Smith Center, at Ohlone College in Fremont, was able to present her touching vision of the musical with pizazz. She did it brilliantly. Stokes managed more than 40 cast members in various roles, in various levels of experience, in various levels of training and skill and provided a weekend run of almost 2,000 patrons with simply a complete stage package. It had Broadway glitz, strong performances, and solid music. There was nothing lacking in this production.

Ugly is born into a family of ducks. From the start he doesn’t fit in. He’s too big. He doesn’t look right. He honks instead of quacks. None of the barnyard animals accept him. He’s branded an outcast from the day he breaks out of his shell. Only the unconditional love of his mother keeps his spirits high. Lonely and wanting, and knowing he’s different, he makes friends with the local tomcat whose goal is to have his newfound companion over for lunch Duck a L’Orange.

Ugly gets separated from the cat and his family and the pond and remains lost through his molting season. Meanwhile, with a determined zeal, his mother, Ida, leaves the pond in search of her missing boy. As he meanders, Ugly meets a beautiful swan named Penny who accepts him just for himself, honking her way into his heart. He begins to feel a kinship and acceptance for who he is. Ugly also gains personal insight into being different from a bullfrog with a vaudevillian flair. He teaches Ugly that love is out there for everyone, “Warts and All.” After a blizzard freezes the action, Ida finds her little boy, but who’s no longer a little boy, but a fullfledged Swan. He and Penny reunited, but rather than fly off with his newly discovered kith and kin, he and Penny choose instead to remain at the pond.

This was a show made for having fun and this cast had fun. While the entire ensemble was strong and tight, there were highlight performances to note. Jordan Aragon played the ungainly and outcast Ugly with a knowing comic energy. We felt his feelings, sensed his despair. Andrew Sa, as Cat, came with attitude and purpose and style. Dapper in a pinstriped suit and spats, Sa oozed conniving frisky playfulness, yet so determined to have Ugly for lunch.

Stacey Bell, as Ida, Ugly’s mother, was engaging, solid, and showed the essence of true motherhood. Her charm and appeal could be appreciated when she sang “The Joy of Motherhood” and “Every Tear a Mother Cries.”  Her vocals were clear and sure. Juliane Godfrey, playing the dual roles of Maureen, barnyard fowl, and Queenie, the indoor pampered cat, was a delight. Preening and cat dancing with the very distracted Cat, Godfrey was purrr-fect. Evan Cannon, as the quick witted and congenial Bullfrog, was an amusing delight. In addition to some wonderful individual solos throughout the show, the goose patrol was a crack up and the ducklings and froglets were adorable.

Kudos to music director Nancy Godfrey for a strong performance support. Choreographer Jeanne Batacan-Harper gets much credit for the creative and entertaining way she captured 40 pairs of legs, getting them to go as intended. An equal nod goes to Marlene Borlaug for costume design.

Star Struck Musical Theatre’s production of “HONK!” was outstanding, and enchanting, and pleasing and uplifting. A 4-year-old critic, sitting two rows behind me, instantly noted at the final curtain, “That was a lot of fun, daddy!” Who can beat that heartfelt, honest review? “HONK!” is a musical with a message for young and old alike. Being different isn’t bad. Being different isn’t wrong. Being different is just, well, being different.

Star Struck Musical Theater performs its staged magic at the Broadway West Theatre and Ohlone College. Keep your eye on the marquee for future stage offerings by Star Struck Musical Theatre. It’s a theatrical house you’ll want to visit. “HONK!” closed Dec. 21.