Seattle Musical Theater
November 13-29, 2009
Tickets and Information
The onomatopoeically named Honk! is the story of the Ugly Duckling of Hans Christen Andersen fame, retold in a modern musical style by George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (book and lyrics). The musical had its big break ten years ago, when it somewhat surprisingly won England's Olivier award, over more currently well-known shows such as The Lion King and Mamma Mia. Since then, it has been produced all over the world, and is currently showcased by Seattle Musical Theater at their stage in Magnuson Park.
The cast of local actors ably handles the light-hearted ensemble songs, the mournful moments, and the occasional quite complex harmony, conducted by musical director Paul Linnes and his small orchestra. The cast is led by Jeremy Adams as a delightfully awkward Ugly Duckling and is solidly anchored by Dawn Brazel playing Ida, Ugly's mother. Brazel shifts believably from scolding wife to surprised but loving mother, and she is at her best when the pure adoration of her strange son shows through in her singing, whether teaching him to swim or discovering he is missing from the farmyard. Also of note is a jazzy Cat (Jesse Smith), who sports a marvelous mustache and slinky footwork, and shamelessly, but hilariously, hams it up during his songs (especially “Play With Your Food,” as he becomes increasingly frustrated while trying to eat Ugly for lunch).
The entire musical is peppered with in-jokes and animal puns (“come on down and don't be strangers / in our duckyard of free rangers” is only one example). This could get old quickly, but for the fact that director and choreographer Ann Arends never hits too hard with the jokes, keeping the pace light during the humorous moments and not taking the puns seriously. While it shifts in mood and has its share of mournful moments, the play keeps continuously moving and never loses its audience.
Deane Middleton's costume designs are wonderful representations of the animals in the English farmyard and beyond: bustled skirts or tailed jackets imitate the back tail of poultry, wide-rimmed bonnets show beaks, and fluffy white skirts and sleek white suits give us the splendor of the swans, without ever a glimpse of a literal animal costume. Jason Philips' set design is a plethora of cat-tails and a movable bridge, allowing for smaller set pieces to move in and designate places on Ugly's journey with a minimum of fuss, and Richard Schaefer's lighting ably guides the action in each scene.
Honk! is a sweet story, with an almost too-pat ending for the teasing that Ugly endured as a duckling. But the play, and this production, is witty, warm-hearted and sincere, and imparts a lesson we could all stand to learn again: don't judge by appearances, because that awkward duckling just might turn out to be a beautiful swan someday.