Theater Review: “Honk!”
Honk!, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fable The Ugly Duckling, narrates the story of – literally, an ugly duckling – who has been abducted by a carnivorous, sinister tom cat. This conflict sets in motion a spirited and fun goose chase to rescue Ugly that the entire family will enjoy.
Like most children’s theater, Theatre IV’s latest production offers enlightening, metaphorical life lessons that the youngsters may not discern easily amongst the storybook’s visual stimuli. However, the mature audiences will find the parables nostalgic, and at times elegiac as Ugly (portrayed by an adeptly nerdy Durron Marquis Tyre) experiences bullying from his feathered siblings, and from his lowbrow father, Drake, for being different from the rest of the roost.
Director Robin Arthur fertilizes her show as if it were a Broadway musical. At times I saw fleeting images of Beauty and The Beast or a reminiscent revival of The Wizard of Oz interspersed in this impressive Richmond staging – Cat (portrayed by Joe Pabst) has Lumiere’s French slyness and Ida – Ugly’s mother – departs on a restless journey similar to Dorothy’s to find her lost duckling. This show is peppered with upbeat dancing scenes that at times evoke a “Spectacular, Spectacular” cabaret and a cast whose vocal color is in tune with the score’s catchy tunes.
Ms. Arthur’s ability to mobilize the youth and seasoned actors in this show into a collage of poultry farm animals on the English countryside (Mercedes Schaum’s set design is top-notch) produces a truly dazzling experience for 2 ½ hours in the spaciousness of the Empire Theatre. The source material may come off as bucolic tenderness, but Ms. Arthur’s interpretive strategy doesn’t eschew the seriousness of Ida’s anguish over Ugly’s sudden disappearance and Ugly’s distress over his self-awareness of his ugliness.
Mark Persinger as Drake plays Ugly’s father commendably as a cockney-accented chump. Ida (played adroitly by Maggie Roop, who sings “The Joy of Motherhood” sincerely with clear articulation) proves that a mother’s love for her children is unconditional. She still maintains her charming 1950s June Cleaver cheerfulness as she waddles through the perils outside the barnyard. Joe Pabst as Cat stirs the pot in this show with his funny business and impresses a feline notoriety on the audience. The ensemble of youngsters make the loveliest little ducklings I’ve ever seen, with shout outs to Ellie Wilson (seen last in Theater IV’s The BFG) and Nicholas Caviness – his “eggcelent” joke kept me laughing.
Queenie and Lowbutt as a domesticated cat and chicken, respectively, start Act II with a satiric thrust. Joy Williams’ trendy, feline characterization and Desirée Roots Centeio’s fowl one-liners will remind the audiences of Eddie and Patsy from BBC’s hit 1990s series Ab Fab. Bullfrog’s number “Warts and All” is a scene-stealer, and Derek Phipps is without a doubt phenomenal. He sings – with a convincing Irish accent – about how someone will find Ugly sexy for who he is someday – a lesson that social conceptions of beauty are ephemeral.
Deborah D. Lynch manages to the get the orchestra of 7 to sound euphonious under the stage, Wendy Vandergrift’s stage management keeps the show seamless in its rapid scenic and costume changes, and Jason Bishop’s costume designs are excellent for each character and scenic location. Lynne M. Hartman’s lighting design is commendable throughout the production.
“Honk!” runs through May 15, 2011 at Theatre IV’s Empire Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.theatreivrichmond.org/. Photo credit: Aaron Sutten.
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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