Cleveland High’s “HONK” fills the winter musical bill

If you miss this musical theater retelling of “The Ugly Duckling” – you’ll miss a fun production replete with fowl puns, feathered frolics, and a purrr-fectly sinister Cat …

Dot, (Maya Houston), based on the bad information provided by Cat (Jordon Beck), a sly, cunning – and generally hungry – feral feline, helps her husband, Admiral Goose Graylag (Sam Bennett), get ready for Ugly’s search-and-rescue mission. It isn’t easy, because Graylag is a really bad navigator.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Taking a turn away from traditional musicals, the Cleveland High School Thespians are now presenting – through March 16 – a relatively new, but award-winning, show simply entitled “HONK!”.

“We thought a contemporary musical would be a nice change from the traditional musical shows we’ve been doing for the last six years,” said the show’s director, Jane Ferguson, Cleveland High’s drama instructor.

“Yes, ‘HONK!” is a cute show,” Ferguson continued, “but, more than that, this is a story about accepting people who are different from you. And, we have a very diverse population of students here at Cleveland High School.”

The central character of the story is Ugly (Michael Chafee), the ugly duckling. Although the others think he’s gawky and odd-looking, he turns out to be a good swimmer with a heart of gold.

Ida (Joellen Sweeney), Ugly’s mother, seems to be the only one who thinks her awkward, honking duckling will ever amount to anything.

About the story …
This retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” mixes in a theme of tolerance for others.

The British songwriting duo of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe aimed their book and score, originally titled “The Ugly Duckling, or the Aesthetically Challenged Farmyard Fowl”, at children and their parents. Since it first premiered in 1993, its name was changed to “HONK!” and it has won numerous awards, including the 2000 Olivier Award for Best Musical, beating “The Lion King”.

Dot (Maya Houston), wife of the Admiral Goose, gets the air squadron (actually, geese) ready for a mission to find Ugly.

“Our musical director, Sam Barbara, recently starred in this same show at the University of Portland,” noted Ferguson.

“HONK!” is set in rural England. As the story unfolds, Ugly – gawky and odd-looking as he is – finds he simply doesn’t fit into life around the duck pond.

Ida, his tearful mom, does her best to defend Ugly, while his dad Drake ‘ducks’ his fatherly responsibilities.

Along the way, Ugly meets a purrr-fectly cunning, sly – and hungry – stray Cat, who sings of the joys of “playing with food”, and wants to have Ugly over for lunch or dinner, literally.

Ugly stumbles into the house of the Farmer’s Wife while trying to escape the ridicule, and encounters into the sophisticated, domesticated Cat, as well as Queenie (Eleanor Bray), and house-frau hen, Lowbutt (Liza Cortright), who exclaims, “A feather pillow must have burst” when she sees Ugly.

Honk is a pun-filled backwoods romp that includes a wisecracking bullfrog, a snide house-hen, and other comical barnyard creatures.

Will Cat “cook Ugly’s goose”? Can Ugly survive the rejection he faces, a blizzard, and the farmer’s carving knife, and fulfill his destiny of becoming a graceful swan? And in the end, will Cat go insane, and scream “Take me to the Betty Fuur Clinic!”?

It looks like Cat, poorly disguised as Ugly’s father, finally has his paws on the duckling he wants to have over for lunch – as Duck à l’Orange, that is.

About the production
“We hope the community will enjoy this unique musical,” Ferguson said. “This show is a new, hot musical that is being presented in many schools and community theaters.”

The cast of 50 students is aided by a professional choreographer, Aerin Shannon, and a set designer from Lewis and Clark College, John Gerth.

The cast of “HONK!” draws from all grade levels at the school, Ferguson added. “It looks like we have a great group of underclassmen who will be here to continue in our future productions.”

It is love at first sight for Queenie and Cat – they dance a purrrr-fect tango of romance, causing Cat to forget his dastardly luncheon plans for Ugly. But, Ugly’s problems are far from over!

“HONK!” runs through March 15
This show opened to an enthusiastic audience on March 6, and continues on March 7 and 8 at 7:00 p.m. Or, you can catch the show next weekend, March 14 or 16; again with a 7:00 p.m. curtain time. The final showing is a special matinee performance at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 16.

Tickets are only $10 for adults and $8 for students at the door. Advance tickets available online at:, or call Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006.

Cleveland High School is located at 3400 S.E. 26th Avenue, just north of SE Powell Boulevard.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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