Monday, February 8, 2010


BOSTON: Talking Broadway
Regional Reviews by Matthew Small

"The Ugly Duckling" sings and dances his way into our hearts in a rousing Wheelock Family Theatre production of Honk! at Wheelock College. Created in 1993 by Anthony Drewe (music) and George Styles (lyrics and book), the musical is not only a delight for children, but also entertaining and engaging for the grown-ups.

Director Jane Staab has assembled a team of designers and actors who deliver a delightful fairytale world. Matthew T. Lazure's fantastic storybook illustration-inspired set is magically illuminated and chromatically transformed by Scott Clyve's lighting design. Dustin Todd Rennells delivers dozens of rich, colorful costumes for the personified animals on the stage.

The cast of Honk! creates a dynamite ensemble whose talents match the flair of the Olivier Award-winning material. There are many feathered friends, foes and family members of Ugly, the little bird born from an egg unlike any the ducks have seen before. Along with the barnyard fowl, the story includes fish, turtles, cats and other creatures Ugly meets while he is lost and searching for his mother. The adult ensemble's comedic timing is tight, while the children's chorus is endearing—especially during the finale ultimo.

Aimee Doherty and Cheo Bourne lead the flock. Doherty portrays Ida, a mother duck determined to maintain normalcy for a son who is born looking different than his brothers and sisters. If only everyone could have a mother so kind—and so talented. As Ugly, Bourne glows with a remarkable, inward resilience, despite the ridicule he receives for his otherness. Boston producers should plan to witness Bourne's commanding song-and-dance performance before casting their shows for next season.

Wheelock Family Theatre maintains a wonderful commitment to expand beyond audiences of privilege. With Honk!, the company offers closed captioning, sound enhancement devices, sign language interpreters for select performances, low ticket prices throughout the run, and an incredible cast of diverse races and ethnicities. This is the way theater should be.

Honk! roosts in Boston for a few weeks only, so plan to take your kids (or some that you borrow) to the Wheelock Family Theatre, 200 The Riverway, before February 28.

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