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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Ducky Production of
Honk! The Ugly Duckling Musical

A relativity new musical theatre company called Ray of Light is presenting composer George Stiles and writer Anthony Drewe's Olivier-winning musical Honk! The Ugly Duckling Musical at the Presentation Theatre through Sunday, January 23rd. This non-profit, semi-professional company has been presenting quality musical productions showcasing San Francisco singers and dancers for four years. Producer Shane R. Ray offers two musicals a year using the best talent available and a full orchestra.

Honk! started in the United Kingdom as The Ugly Duckling, based on the children's fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It had its first showing at The Watermill Theatre in Newbury on December 11, 1993. A revised version open on November 28, 1997 in Alan Ayckbourn's theatre in Scarborough under the name Honk!. The London premier was a National Theatre production in the suburb of Chapham on December 11, 1999, where it ran for several months. The barnyard fable won the prestigious 2000 Olivier Award for Best New Musical. Since that date, this vivacious musical has played in regional, community and children's theatre throughout the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Honk! is full of chirpy and cheery music and plenty of "foul jokes" to make the audience happy. This is a lovely musical for parents and children; it's a perfect mix for persons of all ages.

Ida and Drake are expecting a brood of young ducklings. Ida (Ashia DeLaBastide) wiles away the days sitting on a clutch of eggs singing the lovely song, "The Joy of Motherhood." After a two-week wait, the eggs are hatched and four charming, yellow, fluffy siblings come out of their shells. However, one huge egg has yet to break open and when it finally does, out comes an ugly duckling (Noah Haydon), yelling "Honk."

Ugly's life is miserable since he is rejected by the adults, his father and his brothers and sisters. No one on the farm yard likes animals that are different (just like some people I know). However, a smooth-talking Cat (Nathan Baynard) arrives and our hero gives way to the guile of this wily creature. Needless to say, the cat is looking for a good meal of duck a l'orange. Ugly escapes and goes through a series of adventures involving military flying geese, headed by Grayleg (Justin Sadoian) and geese stewardess Dot (Shaye Troha); a wonderful frog named Bullfrog (Lonnie Haley), singing with the froglets, "Warts and All"; two house cats Queenie and Lowbutt (Lexie Lazear and Shaye Troha); and a beautiful swan named Penny (Sarita Cannon).

Eli Newsom has drawn exuberant and likeable performances from the young, energetic cast headed by a very talented Noah Haydon (he played Joey in the long running San Francisco production of Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding) playing Ugly. He is appealing in manner and talk with great vocal chops when singing the soulful "Lost" and "Transformation" at the end of the musical. Nathan Baynard is very good as the cat. He has great cat-like moves that could put him in a road company production of Cats. Outstanding is Lonnie Haley playing bullfrog; the "Warts and All" number is a very Busby Berkley dance with a chorus of frogs and froglets (who are darling little kids of age 5 to 10) who jump around the stage. Haley has a powerful voice that resonates through the whole theatre. He stops the show with this number.

Ashia DeLaBastide as mother Ida has a lovely and warm voice, especially in the number "Every Tear a Mother Cries." Dale Murphy as Drake (a member of the Gay Men's Chorus for 13 years) is a cross between Gomer Pyle and someone from the "The Dukes of Hazard." Sarita Cannon is lovely and swan-like as Penny. Justin Sadoian, as the leader of the military geese, is a show-stopping delight, along with the choreography by Erin Cole. Shaye Troha as the geese-line stewardess has a good voice but needs to project more, especially when she is giving out advice to the travelers while in the air. Benjamin Grant, in various roles, is very professional (he has been dancing in commercials and independent movies, and recently was in The Laramie Project). The rest of the cast are all very talented performers giving their all.

Director Eli Newsom has done a bang-up job with this large cast of adults, teenagers and pre-teenagers. The action moves swiftly without any dull moments, keeping the children in the audience interested in the antics of the barnyard characters. The orchestra under the direction of Kevin Reid is very good; the beat is lively and does not drown out the singers.

Honk! The Ugly Duckling plays though Sunday January 23rd at the Presentation Theatre, 2350 Turk Blvd at Masonic, San Francisco. To purchase tickets and learn more, visit www.roltheatre.com or Limelight Books, 1803 Market Street, San Francisco. The company will present Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story this summer at the Presentation Theatre.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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