Bird tale struts its plumage
Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014 06:00 am
One of the most delightful comedy musicals ever hatched is Stiles and Drewe’s musical Honk!. Since it hit theatres in 1993, it has winged its way around the world and tomorrow night it opens at the ATB Financial Arts Barns for a 10-day run.
Grindstone Theatre, Edmonton’s fledgling troupe, is making a name for itself as a musical improv company. Eager to expand its repertoire, Grindstone is taking flight with its first full-length scripted production.
“We wanted to do a musical and put on a quality production. But with limited funding we couldn’t do anything big. Honk! is a nice balance of both and we can do it well with a sense of magic and bravado,” says director Mark Vetsch.
Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, Honk! recounts the bird tale of a peculiar looking baby duck and his journey of self-discovery.
Ugly is born into a duck family, but is quickly shunned by other farmyard animals because he is hatched from a bigger egg and is clumsy and plain looking. Only his mother defends her hatchling from the mocking taunts of farmyard fowl.
Soon after his birth, Ugly is seduced away from the farmyard by the Cat, a delightfully evil feline who spends the entire play trying to turn Ugly into a chicken sandwich. As luck would have it, the villainous puss goes a-fowl and ends up with egg on his face.
Ugly, on the other hand, meets a vast network of animals and slowly grows from an awkward bird into a noble swan that discovers his inner self and ultimate destiny.
On the surface, this poultry tale is featherweight, chirpy and full of yolks. Upon a deeper examination, there is a sophisticated script and witty lines that deal with prejudice.
“During rehearsals we talked a lot about the anti-bullying message and how it’s accepted. We talked about whether it’s blatant or more subtle,” noted Vetsch.
Overlaying all this however are the quirky characters, hummable tunes and the range and depth of emotion required by the actors.
“If you set the puns and jokes aside, it’s quite a moving story. It’s so light, yet in the end it drives home a very important message. It’s so impactful.”
David Johnston, who played the role of Ugly in St. Albert Children’s Theatre 2004 production, does an about-face as the villainous Cat on the prowl for both food and love.
Vetsch commented that Drewe and Stiles have composed an assorted palette of music ranging from the fiery tango Together to the poignant ballad Every Tear a Mother Cries.
“The music is fantastic. It’s a vehicle that poses all the questions.”
Honk! offers a strong cartoon-like element that harnesses the cuteness of children’s theatre while creating a more adult dramatic arc and musical palette.
“Our characters are going to showcase lots of intricacies that you might miss in a large theatre. Since we’re in the PCL Theatre, it will be more intimate and you’ll be able to see all the details.”