"Honk!" and smile with RCT this weekend
by Dresden Engle
The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen is a story that has served as a positive lesson for generations, telling us it's OK if someone looks different than you. Plus, we also learn a mother's love doesn't waver, and a frog, for one, doesn't judge because he looks a bit "different" himself.
These are the themes and feel-good messages on stage now at Nazareth College Arts Center, as Rochester Children's Theatre honks its horn this Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 9 and 10, at 2 p.m.
Honk! follows the path of the classic tale, starting with the hatching of a giant egg amongst mama hen Ida's regular-sized eggs. When "Ugly" hatches, his chick sibs and papa are startled, but mama loves him just the same as her other children. Spoiler alert: This gray-feathered large "duck" ultimately becomes a swan by play's end and gets the overdue and deserved oohs and aahs when he returns in the spring to the farmyard. But there is a lot of mileage covered before that transformation.
Director Danny Hoskins weaves clever staging with dynamic characterizations, allowing the audience to accept the human actors as animals and also for children to be entertained. A favorite for the kids in the audience, including my own, is the Cat (strongly portrayed both physically and vocally by Lani Toyama), who slinkily attempts to literally have Ugly for lunch throughout the play, but she's repeatedly foiled by missed chances, flying balls, and falling snow, complete with pratfalls.
The production features a talented five-piece band, complete with brass, guitar, and drums. While the score features one too many ballads at the top of the show, there are upbeat numbers that are sure crowd pleasures, such as “Play with Your Food,” “Warts and All,” and “Together,” which kicked off Act II. It is the most humorous number of the production, starring Lauren MacDonough and Ken Harrington, joined by Toyama, dramatizing a spontaneous love triangle with several funny one-liners. Both MacDonough and Harrington nail character roles throughout Honk!, with solid singing and acting and diverse portrayals.
Acting kudos also go to Jodi Beckwith, who literally made us laugh and cry, and Amy Gundermann, whose variety of characterizations are well animated and defined. Meaghan Wilson and Elliott Fox also tackle several ensemble roles, with Fox's frog character a big hit with the kids. And at the center of the pathos is Brian Ziemann as Ugly, whose warm tones and facial expressions make us want to be his friend, and cheer for him as the hero of the story.
A youth ensemble helps create spectacle as the stage is filled with colorful characters, from barnyard poultry to pond frogs. And a consistent spectacle throughout is delivered via the ever-changing and dynamic set by Mark Almekinder, complete with stone walls and giant cattails.
At 90-minutes, Honk is a bit longer than most productions of RCT, which recommends "Honk!" for children ages 5 and up (plus their moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas). A scan of the audience during the production revealed many smiles on those young and old, as we enjoyed being reminded – via solid Rochester talent -- that it’s OK to be different.
© 2013, Dresden Engle
Dresden Engle is a Rochester-based writer and public relations professional, and adjunct professor of communications at several local colleges.