Musical 'Honks' its horn for diversity
Through songs, jokes and storytelling, "Honk! A Musical Tale of 'The Ugly Duckling'" describes the value of authenticity, uniqueness and diversity.
And the Eastside Theatre Company's rendition of the play will be performed Oct. 5-7 and Oct. 12-14 at The Chapel, 27132 S.E. Stark St., Troutdale.
The production not only expresses these themes verbally but also exemplifies them through its cast.
Two of the main characters, Ugly and the Cat, are typically played by men, but in Eastside Theatre Company's production female actors Abby Cohen and Jessie Turner earned these parts.
"I'm hoping that people will leave with a newfound sense of appreciation for their identity and what each individual has to offer and to see Ugly's personal journey on the stage and how that impacts everybody. I'm hoping it will be powerful in a lighthearted way," Turner said.
The play, which debuted in England in 1993 and won the Oliver Award for Best Musical in 2000, chronicles the tribulations of a duckling whose appearance differs from his brothers and sisters. Derided and named "Ugly," he runs away with a nefarious and hungry tomcat.
But through a journey of self-affirmation inspired by a bullfrog, a chicken, a domesticated cat and others, Ugly learns that his uniqueness is a gift rather than a curse. Eventually, he transforms into a swan.
"Each person he meets along the way helps him to find something within himself that can really be appreciated," Turner said.
Cohen not only had to adapt to playing a male role, but also to a character who is more optimistic than she's used to.
To prepare to play Ugly, she listened to the play's soundtrack as well as other upbeat songs. She also altered her gait and voice.
"It's a lot of body language that's different. I have to constantly think about lowering my voice. On stage, I can't walk the way I normally walk," she said.
Her favorite scene is a duet between Ugly and Ugly's mom Ida, played by Lauren Binney, which culminates Act 1. Ida is the only character who appreciates Ugly early on in the play and is anguished by his absence.
"I think it's really touching," Cohen said. "It's about how I should keep looking and hold my head up high."
Turner, who plays the Cat, has also navigated a steep learning curve — but she likes it that way. She says a scene in which she rapidly switches from flirtatiousness to aggression has been the most challenging to master.
"I am very growth-oriented. I love challenges that could potentially help me grow and they always do. It's good to be challenged in the theatre world and it makes it more exciting," Turner said.
Brook Mackaness plays a bullfrog who teaches Ugly, through puns and jokes, that he will find someone who loves him "warts and all."
"It's super funny. I have so many puns and play on words. They're all dad jokes," Mackaness said.
Above all else, Mackaness appreciates the play's range of emotion.
"There are sad, depressing songs and also really happy songs. The range of emotions you can see is strikingly phenomenal. The ups and downs are really impressive," he said.