Honk! Takes Wing

By James E. Trainor III

ICCT – Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale “The Ugly Duckling” has been adapted many times throughout the years, but Andrew Drewe and George Stiles’ Honk! is one of the best. The musical explores the themes of diversity, ostracization and the need for tolerance in a really fun and approachable way. As Ugly (Adam Jedlicka) goes on an adventure after being teased by his siblings, he meets a cast of quirky characters who are each “different” in entertaining ways.

Director Brett Myers leads an enthusiastic company through this charming script and takes care to realize the potential of the many lively set pieces and zany characters.

The ensemble, many of them children, are quite solid. They stay together very well and feed off each other, building a variety of colorful worlds on stage, whether as ducks, geese, frogs, or even humans. Some stand-out performances include Jesse Jensen as Greylag, the very confident but slightly lost leader of the goose squad, Marek Muller as Queenie, a sophisticated housecat who happens to have a soft spot for rambunctious tomcats, and Katey Halverson as Grace, the calm but commanding duck who rules at the lake.

These actors, and indeed the entire ensemble, do really creative stuff with really fun characters. This is a great show for kids because those characters are big and broad, and it’s got a lot of colorful settings. It’s also good for kids because it has an important message, delivered in an entertaining but powerful way.

The cruelty of the crowd in “Look at Him” hits particularly hard, not only because of the effective direction and choreography but because the ducklings (Claire Green, Lily O’Brien, Bailey Raso, and Joseph Verry) are so invested in the scenework. With an excellent command of physical characterization and precise timing, they hit poor Ugly with all the ferocity of the school playground. Anyone who’s dealt with bullying will recognize the demeaning behavior that leads Ugly to doubt himself.

The show lifts us up again, however, in songs like “Hold Your Head Up High” and “Different.” It also gets the message across in a more light-hearted way, with upbeat songs like “Warts and All” – because this is, above all, a fun show.

Adam Jedlicka plays Ugly with vigor and an abundance of humor. He’s awkward in a lovable way; his excitement is infectious, and his songs are heartfelt and sincere. He does a great job with the transformation as well, maturing a lot in a scene with some subtle vocal and physical work.

Ida (Kait Skaggs), Ugly’s mother, sticks by him when everyone picks on him, and her quiet courage in going against the crowd is inspiring. Skaggs’ Ida is tenacious, with a will to match the most outrageous of the other characters. At times she may be a bit too reserved but is always calm and graceful, secure in being the moral center of the play. She’s also quite funny in the more comic scenes, playing well off of Drake, (Emerson Grow), Ugly’s father.

Jeffrey Allen Mead is wonderful as the Cat. From the moment he comes on, with his silky, seductive cartoon villain voice, it’s clear he’s going to be trouble. The Cat chases Ugly throughout the play, through some moments of slapstick and some that are more sinister, and Mead does it all with wicked charm.

The design team also does a great job on this show; scene transitions are quick and efficient, and Jake Kline’s set pieces are sparse, simple, and effective. There is a wide array of costumes used, from bright yellow overalls and orange stocking for ducks to World War II-era flight suits for the geese. Designer Becca Anderson’s choices add a lot of color and flavor to the piece. The lighting, designed by Rebekah Oulton, works quite well; the use of projections and very saturated blues makes some beautiful pictures, particularly in “The Blizzard.”

This is a great show to see with the whole family. It’s got humor, excitement, and a positive moral. Honk! runs June 8 – 10, 7:30 Friday & Saturday, 2:00 Saturday and Sunday, at the Englert Theatre. Tickets are $18 ($15 students & seniors, $12 youth).

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