by Joshua Ryan Taylor
The Selma Arts Center is one of the Valley’s brightest new voices in the live theatre scene, taking major artistic risks that pay off in wonderful an unexpected ways. For the third show of their 2017 season, they present Honk!, a musical adaptation of Hans Cristian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles.
Amidst a season of daring, new work (35MM, Carrie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), reimagined classics (Gypsy), and rocking teenage casts (13), Honk! serves as the one completely family friendly show of the year, appropriate for all ages.
Which isn’t to say that it’s a kid’s show… The cast is composed almost entirely of adults, and there are many jokes meant entirely for the parents in the audience. As Roger Ebert once wrote, the test of family friendly entertainment is that it entertains not just the children but the parents because “they’re the ones who have to buy the tickets.” Bursting with double-entendre, visual flair, and a parade of colorful characters, this is the rare show that plays to all ages.
The story follows Ugly, a cygnet whose brood rejects him due to his appearance. After being stolen away from the pond by the treacherous and hungry cat, he gets lost in the world. As he tries to find his way home, he finds a series of geese, chickens, frogs, and more animals who help him find himself.
The cast and crew is a mixture of veterans and first-timers. Some familiar faces for Valley theatre goers include Camille Gaston as Ida, Ugly’s mother; Jenny Myers as Maureen, Queenie, and Snowy; and Jeremy Hitch as the Cat. For others, though, this is their first experience with musical theatre.
“It’s a whole different ballgame,” says choreographer Katie Hale, who, despite teaching dance for nearly a decade and choreographing small pieces for larger shows, has never choreographed a musical. “Learning how to use movement to tell a story rather than purely express emotion has been rewarding challenge.” She is more than up to the task, though, incorporating a wide variety of dance styles including ballet, tap, jazz, tango, contemporary, and more. “Honk!” was never intended to be a dance-heavy show, but Hale’s imagination and skill have raised the production to new heights. “It’s been a joy to be a part of. Getting it on stage has given me the creative outlet I needed to indulge my goofy side.”
That goofy side is brought out of many involved in the show. With nearly every member of the cast playing 2-6 characters, many involving 15-second quick changes, there is a sense of innocent play-pretend that pervades the production. Bales of hay transform into a couch, baseball caps change into a duck’s bill, and bed sheets become a snowstorm. “Half the show exists only in the audience’s imagination,” says Dylan Hardcastle, who plays Turkey, Barnacles, Bullfrog, and more. “We have to allow ourselves to be silly so the audience can be, too. Unless you’re able to give in to that childlike wonder and willingness to imagine, this show won’t work.”
Honk! has seven performances at the Selma Arts Center. Tickets available at www.selmaartscenter.com.