Raleigh Little Theatre will present the Triangle premiere of Honk! — a bodacious new musical based on "The Ugly Duckling" story by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75) — March 5-28 in RLT's Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. Like the homely hero of that beloved children's story — the ugly duckling who becomes a beautiful swan — Honk! transforms the familiar fairy tale into an prize-winning piece of musical theater, with clever book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe and memorable music by George Stiles.
Created in 1993 as a Christmas show for The Watermill Theatre in Newbury, England, Honk! played British playwright/director/producer Alan Ayckbourn's Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough in November 1997. Then the show made its West End debut in London on Dec. 11, 1999 as the first British musical to be performed at The Royal National Theatre. Honk! won the 2000 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, beating out Mamma Mia! and The Lion King for that honor.
"Honk! is a wonderful mix of familiar story, great twists, funny, funny lines," says Sue Scarborough, who will direct the show for the RLT Family Series. "[This show is] a story with a warm heart and great theatricality (a light, creative type of theatricality — not Andrew Lloyd Webber). It is a smart, modern musical accessible to children with a whole other level just for adults. I wanted to direct it because of its creative possibilities."
Scarborough says, "The show has multiple locations and the actors play multiple parts. To do this, we have used every part of the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre and have a multilevel unit set. And the cast will be changing costumes like crazy."
Besides director Sue Scarborough, the RLT production team for Honk! includes set designer Rick Young, lighting designer Andy Parks, costume designer Vicki Olsen, and sound designer Ken Nyren.
Scarborough says, "Honk! is a re-look at 'The Ugly Duckling' story in a fresh, funny, touching musical. Ugly (John Arnold) is hatched at the pond with four other darling ducklings. His mother, Ida (Heidi Johnston), sees he is different but she loves him and teaches him to swim (in a giant underwater productions number complete with fish).
"But the young duck is so ugly that he is laughed at by the rest of his family and all of the pond society," Scarborough says. "He leaves the pond with the cat (Matthew-Jason Willis) who intends to have him for dinner. Plans go awry. Ugly goes on to meet a motley squadron of geese who hatch (excuse me) a plan to get him home, but that plan meets with disastrous results. Meanwhile Ida, Ugly's mom, leaves home to search for him."
Scarborough says, "As the weather gets colder, Ugly has more adventures (including a huge production number with a bullfrog) and finally meets Penny (Margaret Jeffreys Shouse), a beautiful young swan who then flies away. Snows fall, and Ida finally finds her son as the thaws come. He has, of course, changed into a swan. Penny comes back and they fly off together … but they don't go and choose to stay and live at the pond."
In reviewing the original production, the BBC Kaleidoscope saluted Honk! as "a celebration of being different," and The Southampton Press called the show "a marvelously funny, frequently touching and constantly magical theatre piece... sure to have a long and lustrous life."
"One's inner child is not disappointed," claimed The Boston Globe. "...[M]essages about diversity have never gone down so painlessly."
RLT guest director Sue Scarborough says, "Honk! is funny and tender at the same time. The script makes you laugh out loud with lines such as this: IDA (as she scolds her wayward but very sorry husband): 'And it doesn't do for a duck to look sheepish, it confuses the other animals!' Full of fowl puns, the show is a joy for children and adults."
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Honk! Friday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 6, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 7, at 2 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, March 11-12, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 13, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 14, at 2 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, March 17-19 and 24-26, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 20 and 27, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 21 and 28, at 2 p.m. in RLT's Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $11 ($7 students). 919/821-3111. Note 1: The theater is wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available. Note 2: RLT will provide audio description and sign-language interpretation at the March 14th matinee. RLT: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/honk.htm [inactive 6/04]. Honk!: http://www.mtishows.com/show_home.asp?ID=000220 [inactive 5/04].