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'Honk!': Waddling to a Theater Near You

The Alliance Theatre presents takeoff of 'The Ugly Duckling' on Aug. 4.

Fans of musical theater are quacking about "Honk," the Alliance Theatre's upcoming play which is sure to be the feel-good feature of the summer. Packed with catchy choral numbers and high-brow humor, "Honk" will have fans tapping their toes and splitting at their sides, and the message presented by the play's costumed cast is a touching social allegory.

"IT IS A celebration of being different. It's a family oriented show featuring lyrics that are witty and clever, which appeals to the parents in audience," says the play's co-director Pat Kallman. "'Honk' plays on many different levels so that adults and kids alike can enjoy it."

The production consists of a cast and crew of more than 70 children and adults, many of whom play multiple roles. The acting troupe has been gearing up for the Aug. 4 opening for more than six weeks. It conducted its first wave of tryouts the day after schools let out, and began rehearsing the play three days a week and on weekends to accommodate busy schedules.

"Honk" is the theatrical rendition of a story with which many audience members are familiar: it begins with the initial banishment of the aptly named protagonist, Ugly, who is played by Arvin Ahmadi. The homely duckling leads an afflicted existence on the poultry farm as an outsider, subjected to daily mocking by the bird and duck population.

Ugly flees the farm when he is pursued the wicked cat, played by Jim Mitchell, who looks at Ugly as a potential meal. The contentious relationship between Ugly and the cat is a running gag that generates much slapstick comedy amongst characters. "Honk" is Mitchell's third production with the Alliance Theatre.

"I play the villain," Mitchell says impishly, who is accustomed to playing more sympathetic roles such as the titular character in Alliance Theatre's production of "The Music Man." Mitchell continues to work with the Alliance Theatre because he says, "Pat and Elaine are great directors; and we have such a talented group of adults that keep coming back [and] this is a fun show with a message."

It is Ugly's expulsion from home which leads him on a physical and spiritual journey that culminates in the character's transformation from an unattractive duckling to a beautiful swan, learning along the way that his differences — the very things that set him apart from others — is what makes him unique and special.

"HONK" IS sure to serve a healthy didactic moral dose, delivered through nuanced dialogue and musical harmony, championing a clear message: differences should be embraced, not spurned.

"My hope is that some kids will walk out and think, 'Guess what? Maybe it's not so bad to be different," says Kallman. "I think there is a lot more in common within humanity than there is difference, and this is the message that "Honk" focuses on."

Younger audiences will be captivated by the song numbers and colorful costumes and set design, if not the subtle humor. All the characters of "Honk" are made up of animals — from the Geese patrol which resembles WWI flying aces to a tango-dancing hen — lending magic to the production that will be sure to please the younger crowd.

"We want to create a professional atmosphere where kids can work with adult actors and learn from the adults," says Kallman. "We have lots of actors returning and some new faces."

Shara Carter, one of the cast's new faces, plays Maureen, who vocalizes some of the discrimination in the play. For Carter, the highlight of the play is, "The song "Warts and All," sung by Ugly and the Bullfrog, who are later joined by an ensemble of kids dressed as frogs. The Bullfrog tells Ugly that while he is no picture of beauty, he is sure that one day Ugly will be accepted and learn what it feels like to be loved."

Suzy McCarthy, who plays Ugly's mother, Ida, says that there is plenty of material in "Honk" that is just for the parents, as in the scene when Ugly's father, Drake, played by Billy Clay, rejects the young duckling at the first site of his misshapen eggshell.

"THERE IS A humorous exchange between Ida and the father because Ugly's egg is so big. [Because of its large size] the father says things like, "Are you sure it's not the Turkey's? Has the Turkey been messing with my wife?" McCarthy quips. "Much of the humor is tongue-and-cheek — which the kids might not necessarily understand — but makes the play funny on many levels."

"Honk" is certainly a multi-generational experience, inviting audiences of all ages to enjoy the delightful musical played by a cast that ranges from 5-year-olds to adults.

"If people enjoyed [Alliance Theatre's] other productions — Oliver and The Music Man — they should want to see Honk. It's an upbeat [and] happy musical with a message; and it's hysterical," Kallman.