As I walked in the foyer of the historic Iao Theater, past patrons munching on chocolate chip cookies and mixed nuts, I heard excited little voices from restless children waiting for the show to begin.
It was the opening weekend of Honk!—a story loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. The set looked liked something drawn in a fantastic pop-up children’s book. It was an animated contraption made of rotating panels that swirled pinks and blues and slid to create different scenes.
From the moment the set’s sleepy farmyard awakened, I couldn’t look away.EThere were pretentious ducks, gobbling turkeys, curious chickens, mischievous cats and—what the hell, let’s throw in some jumping frogs, too. Four human-sized eggs filled a nest lined by cattails, where the ducklings hatched during the show.
The musical journey of wayward duckling “Ugly,” played by Francis Tau’a, had me laughing and crying. Decked in an English schoolboy outfit, Tau’a kept the audience enthralled with his innocence and captivating voice. The duet he sang with Lisa Paulson’s “Ida” of “Hold Your Head Up High” immediately stuck in my head. But I didn’t mind.
The mischievous cat played by Steven Nikolau had me laughing out loud as he showed the extent we sometimes go through to get what we want. Obsessed with duck a l’orange, Nikolau created a versatile character pulling from an endless bag of tricks, even opera. A game of cat and duck ensued, while the ugly duckling tried to find his way home.
When Ugly’s irresponsible father Drake—actor Steve Hatcher—was left to look after the other ducklings, he sang about the perils of motherhood and how “this apron fits her best.” It was a moment for all moms to say, “I told you so!”
After an encounter with the slightly misguided brigade of geese headed by P.J. Myers’ “Graylag,” Ugly stumbled into the company of “Queenie,” a pompous housecat played by Olivia Mora—that girl can sing—and Liam Selwyn’s “Lowbutt,” a codependent, well-endowed hen. I rolled with laughter as Lowbutt desperately tried to convince Queenie that a scruffy tomcat was not the best for her.
“Why should being different make me sad?”EUgly asked. But his sorrow quickly ended as an energetic and charismatic “Bullfrog” played by Tom Althouse hopped up onstage on trampoline lily pads and told him he can be loved, “warts and all.”
Althouse, who also gobbled onstage as a turkey, delivered a high-energy performance. His commanding voice took the audience into a heightened frenzy of excitement. It’s no wonder he and Nikolau are part of a local improv comedy troupe, the Pono Players.
Let’s not forget the kids! Emily Betham, Hayden Ezzy, Anneka Johnston and Tommy Rogers were adorable as the little ducklings in their bright yellow hoodies and the frogletts in bowler hats.
Rae Ariel’s “Grace,” the mother swan, sang a stunning angelic soprano. Other standouts were Julie Kawamura, who brought superb fun to the boards as “Maureen” and Hoku Pavao’s touching performance as “Penny.”
Local director David C. Johnston did an outstanding job of creating a rollercoaster ride of emotions. He had the audience laughing uncontrollably one moment, then dipped them into pathos the next.
The evening ended in a standing ovation with the entire audience clapping in sync with the final number. With a loud and proud honk, Ugly spoke like a wise sage—“I love my honk and I love who I am!”—and in turn, gave us a gift we could all take to heart. MTW