Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Honk!: Entertaining Full Length Musical
Also see Bob's review of Bakersfield Mist
Composer George Stiles and his partner, librettist Anthony Drewe, accomplished veterans of the English stage, are in particularly good form here. While making intelligent and helpful modifications, Drewe has essentially retained the incidents and through-the-seasons arc of Hans Christian Andersen's classic nineteenth century tale while appropriately dialing down the despair of our Ugly. All of Andersen's characters have of necessity been significantly expanded and given rich new colors, none more so than Tom Cat who has become the musical's evening's length long villain and a principal source of comic delight. There are also additional characters including Drake, Ugly's hapless father, and Penny, a very fine young swan indeed. There are also some formidably delightful frogs, and the geese are newly heroic. Much of the libretto is truly funny. There is also a sweet, new ending which works well as it enhances the emotional content of this family musical. Stiles has provided a jaunty, more than serviceable score. On a number of occasions, the score has the air of 1930s theatre ("Wild Goose Chase") and popular band ("Together") music.
The 12-member ensemble play more than two dozen roles. The entire cast performs with a charm and exuberance which enhances the material and brings squeals of delight from younger members of the audience. The formidable Kenita R. Miller displays abundant warmth, sincerity and vocal polish in the role of Ida, Ugly's mother.
It is neither his feathery headdress nor his handsome features that make Paolo Montalban an Ugly. It is the disdain with which others treat him, his sad visage, and the fact that he is an adult while his fellow nestlings are (portrayed by) children that make for that bit of theatrical alchemy. Montalban has us with him from the beginning when he sings: " ... I'm just different/ I'm just different from the rest/ And who can blame them/ For wanting me to find another nest/ But, different isn't naughty/ Different isn't bad/ So why should being different make me sad?"
Doug Hara is dynamically delightful as the Cat. Both in their music and words, Stiles and Drewe make it clear that Cat is at least as much a hepcat as he is a tomcat. Hara's dance movement, smooth vocal stylings and grease paint moustache evoke pulse-quickening memories of the extraordinary Cab Calloway.
Aymee Garcia is hilarious as the pushy, critical fowl Maureen, and as Queenie, a blowsy house cat. Amanda Butterbaugh is both wistful and hilarious as she conveys an avian soul while portraying three diverse fowl. We are unlikely to ever see a funnier Turkey than that of Michael Genet who nails his Turkey's movement for maximal comic effect. Genet is equally deft and impressive in his other roles.
Olivia Oguma is a brightly shining Penny, and as shining in her other roles. Jim Newman is fine as Drake, but gets to strut his stuff to more comic effect as goose leader, Greylag. Four youngstersLaura Diorio, Owen Doherty, Julian Sarin and Gabriella Scerboplay Ugly's nestlings with satisfyingly smooth professionalism.
Director Matt Pfeiffer has directed at a fast but never rushed pace, allowing his excellent cast to bring out the full comic potential of the piece. Conversely, never is there any sense of excessive strain in the quest to entertain. The choreographed movement provided by Jenn Rose blends in seamlessly. The bright, imaginative and flexible scenery (David P. Gordon), colorful lighting design (Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew) and most amusing and inventive costumes of Olivera Gajic all support and enhance the production.
Honk! will be dispensing holiday fun suitable for all through New Year's Day.
Honk! A Musical Tale of The Ugly Duckling continues performances (Evenings through 12/23 and 12/29-12/30 - 7 pm; Matinees 12/21- 12/23 & 1/1 - 3 pm / 12/27-12/31 - 12 Noon) at the Two River Theatre Company, Rechnitz Main Stage, 21 Bridge Ave., Red Bank 07701; Box Office: 732-345-1400 / online: www.trtc.org.
Honk! A Musical Tale of "The Ugly Duckling" Music by George Stiles; Book and Lyrics by Anthony Drewe; directed by Matt Pfeiffer