Honk! A modern take on the Ugly Duckling

by Janet Grant
Tri-City Voice – January 15, 2008

The barnyard has come to life at Ohlone College’s Jackson Theatre. And what a wild and far-out place it is too as StarStruck Theatre presents Honk! The Ugly Duckling Musical. Loosely based on the children’s fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, British composer George Stiles and writer Anthony Drewe have added a few twists and a number of cheery songs in their award-winning musical.

Under the magical direction of Lori Stokes, this barnyard fable comes to life in vivid Technicolor with a remarkable cast of over 52 of the Bay Area’s most talented young people. Though Hans Christian Andersen first conceived of the Ugly Duckling, this is not your typical Danish fairy tale. For one thing Ms. Stokes sets this production in the late 1960’s and for another, there are no animal costumes!

Under the inspired costume design of Vicki Boomer, the animals do come through just fine though from the cool, hip cat to the bright and colorful barnyard fowl. The incredible set design of Stephen C. Wathen harkens you to the farm and the field and marshes of the countryside. The exceptional lighting design by Christopher Booras brings depth and vivid imagery to the stage. As usual, Choreographer Jeanne Batacan-Harper delivered some really fun and clever dance routines including Ugly’s swimming lesson and the swirling blizzard scene. And of course, the energetic score under the musical direction of Nancy Godfrey provided many toe-tapping melodies.

Young and old know the story of the ugly duckling, who was shunned by the barnyard because he came from a bigger egg and was different and ungainly. Well in Honk, Ugly, the duckling gets lost and in his journey to make his way home, he encounters a very British style squadron of bumbling geese, an odd pairing of a pampered cat and her dedicated chicken friend, a sympathetic and wise bullfrog and of course through all of it, there is a slick tomcat who keeps popping up wanting to turn Ugly into a meal of duck a l’orange.

There are many veteran StarStruck actors in this production, most notably, Jordan Aragon who is reprising his 2003 role as Ugly. Mr. Aragon plays Ugly with the right amount of naiveté and empathy as the ungainly but likeable young duckling. His transformation from the much maligned creature to the magnificent swan made you want to cheer from the rafters.

Natalie Hawkins, coming from her recent role as Belle in Starstruck’s Beauty and the Beast plays Ugly’s mother Ida. Her compassion and caring for her “different” child shined through, illustrating that a true mother may not necessarily be your blood relative after all. Her melodic voice was especially rich in her rendition of Every Tear a Mother Cries.

James M. Jones, also coming from a recent role in Beauty and the Beast, plays The Cat with a perfect blend of wickedness and zaniness in his tireless quest of making Ugly his meal. Play with your food was particularly hilarious.

Benjy Hall as Drake was equally believable and quite funny as the mallard who was constantly “ducking” out on his responsibilities as a father. Embarrassed by his different son, he got a taste of what his long suffering partner Ida had to endure as he kept the roost going when she went away.

Estaban Gonzalez was hilarious as Greylag, the spit spot British squadron leader of the Geese Squad. Greylag and the Geese Squad was a show-stopping delight with their play off of each other – the squad’s ineptness against Greylag’s military no-nonsense.

Also delightful was Hawa Foster as the Bullfrog. Hawa’s strong voice resounded in Warts and All adding panache to the wonderful chorus of froglets dancing on and around the stage in an awesome number.

Devon Simpson as Queenie and Jordan Joly as Lowbutt were wonderful as the strange duo of domestic cat and chicken. Not wanting to upset that unique relationship, Lowbutt quashes the newly budding romance between Queenie and The Cat. Lowbutt comforts Queenie through it all, reminding her later that they still have each other in Together.

StarStruck has produced a totally entertaining musical comedy that can be enjoyed by the entire family. It has everything that you can ask for from plentiful and uplifting songs, to an exceptional cast of characters in pseudo-psychedelic colors. And to top it all off, there is a message wrapped up in all of this. To be different isn’t necessarily bad; it’s just not that easy. The lesson of acceptance and tolerance is at the heart of this old tale, but StarStruck presents that lesson with wit, fun, and just plain good musical theatre.

Performance dates:

Friday, January 18th and 25th at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, January 19th at 7:30 p.m. and 26th at 7:30 p.m., and matinee at 2:00 p.m.
Sunday, January 20th (ASL Interpreted Performance), and 27th at 2:00 p.m.

Ohlone College, Smith Center in the Jackson Theatre
43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont.

Ticket Prices are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors/students and $18.00/children 12 & under. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (510) 659-1319 or online at www.starstrucktheatre.org