'Honk!' celebrates differences in Happy Valley
Although "Honk!" is a musical based on "The Ugly Duckling," by Hans Christian Andersen, don't expect to see any duck costumes.
Instead, the show opening at Clackamas High School on Nov. 8 is based on the idea "that the audience has an imagination," said director Ben Tissell.
The setting for the show is a 1950s farm, so "we've made little nods to the animal characters," he said, noting that Ida, Ugly's mother, wears a dress with the colors of a mallard duck, while the cat character is dressed all in black with fur cuffs and a collar.
Tissell describes the musical as "a creative take" on the classic story, but with more of an edge and tongue-in-cheek humor. The script is clever, he said, in that all the characters introduce themselves to the audience, so that it is clear what animal they are playing.
"The characters are built out more realistically. Ugly's parents are not two-dimensional, but are a real mom and dad," he said. "A lot of the characters Ugly encounters are based on the kind of people you would actually meet."
The musical appears "deceptively simple," Tissell said, but the theme is universal: "Different isn't wrong."
"Honk!" is Ugly's "journey of discovery; different doesn't have to mean isolation," he said.
The musical is suitable for all ages. Kids might not get some of the humor, but the adults will.
Tissell is a 2007 CHS graduate who earned a degree in theater and music from George Fox University. He spent most of his 20s as a professional actor and director; he has directed six plays at CHS and coaches Thespians at the school for competitions.
This is Tissell's third time directing a musical at the high school and he chose "Honk!" because it is "musical comedy at its best."
The piece "invokes the great tradition of the Broadway musical — it is high energy, has zany humor and is fast paced," he said.
The biggest challenge was to make sure the cast understood the depth of the script and the musicality of the songs.
"The audience will leave humming," Tissell said, but the songs required moments of harmony that the students had to dig deep to achieve.
"When it really pops it's electric."
What has been the most rewarding for Tissell is watching the "students blossom and sink their teeth" into their roles.
"We have a student in a lead role whose physicality and timbre of voice is distinct," he said.
He is the kind of student who is dedicated and works hard, Tissell noted, but is not really right for classic musical theater roles.
But "Honk!" gives character actors a chance to shine, and when they catch on, they give "a funny and moving performance," Tissell said.
Another important aspect of musical theater is dancing, and Jorie Jones is on hand to choreograph the show. She is a 2010 graduate of CHS and is student-teaching theater classes at the high school while getting her master's degree.
Jones graduated from Central Washington University with a bachelor's degree in musical theater.
"She is amazing and incredible at doing all different kinds of dance, including lyrical ballet, tap and classic music theater-style dance," Tissell said.
The challenge for Jones has been that each of the songs requires a different dance genre.
"I usually stay away from big Broadway moments, because they tend to be clumsy. But I've let loose my rules for this show, and the students are stepping up to the challenge," she said.
In past musicals, Jones has choreographed, she has been able to look at productions online to get a feel for the show, but "Honk!" has only been produced a few times.
"So I had to take my own ideas and build on those. It has been rewarding, but more of an effort to make everything brand-new," she said.
Among Tissell's favorite moments in the show are the bullfrogs singing "Warts and All," and Ida and Ugly singing while searching for each other.
The bullfrog number is jazzy and would be at home on a stage in Las Vegas, while the songs Ugly and his mother sing are stunning, Tissell said.
Jones said she loves the humor in "Wild Goose Chase," while the ballad, "Now I've Seen You," gets to her emotionally.
This is her third time working with Tissell at CHS, and the two have the same approach to musical theater.
"I like to work to students' advantages and take a little bit of each person and use it in the work. We like to have our students grow," Jones said.
'Honk!' your heart out
What: The Clackamas High School Theater Department presents "Honk!"
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 8, 15 and 16; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9; 2 p.m. Nov. 10, 17
Where: Clackamas High School, 14486 S.E. 122nd Ave., Clackamas
More: Visit chsthespians.org
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