Last Saturday evening I drove south through a blinding rainstorm to see one of the final performances of “Honk!” as presented by the Buck Creek Players.
I knew I would not be able to write about it in time to help anyone else make a decision about whether or not to go see it, but I had several reasons for wanting to see it just for myself:
1) Josefa Beyer of Nuvo called the show “professional-grade comedic high jinx at community theater prices.”
2) When I was out at Spotlight the weekend before to see “Voices from the High School,” director Jeremy Tuterow recommended “Honk!” to me, too. “It’s sweet,” he said.
3) I hadn’t been out to Buck Creek since before Christmas. It was time for some “relationship maintenance” with this theatre.
4) But mostly, I just really like Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Ugly Duckling,” in which a lonely, bullied misfit finally grows into himself and discovers that he is something beautiful, lovable, and admirable after all. “Honk!” is based on that story.
The musical version has music by George Stiles, with book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe. Buck Creek’s production was directed by D. Scott Robinson and produced by Lynne B. Robinson. The vocal director and conductor was Matthew Konrad Tippel. The technical director was Aaron B. Bailey. The assistant director was Melissa DeVito. The assistant vocal director was Scott Pittmann.
The show sold out soon after I phoned in my reservation. I got there early and snagged my favorite seat at Buck Creek: at the end of the back row, up near the rafters, which sounds as if it would be far away from the stage but it is not. Buck Creek’s theatre space is a nice size: large but not vast.
I overheard the people sitting in front of me comparing notes. One of them had already seen the show twice. Another had already seen it three times!
The show charmed me, too. I would go see it again myself, if it were still running.
And not just because I was totally smitten with The Cat (Trevor Fanning), although that is one of the main reasons I would go back if I could. His black leather energy was a cross between sexy James Spader and that cartoon character who used to say “Heavens to murgatroid!” In other words: funny and steamy and dangerous, an intoxicating combination. I hung around after the show like a cat in heat myself, to see if the actor was a tom in real life, but he was surrounded by family and other fans. My shyness got the best of me and I came on home. But mmm, The Cat was a yummy villain in the show.
Several other elements in the show were pleasing as well.
The musical accompaniment was quite fun to listen to. It had me tapping my toe right from the beginning. I got to chat with Adam Kruse, the bass guitar player, a bit after the show. He said there were “lots of us in a small space” behind the set. I heard wind chimes, plus some other intriguing sounds I couldn’t identify. Kruse said that the “wanging” sounds I heard at one point had probably been produced by a synthesizer, but I know that many of the other sounds were produced by percussion instruments for which I just don’t have the names. The fun sound that the eggs made when they cracked open is just one of many examples.
Here are the names of the orchestra members:
Piano/conductor – Matthew Konrad Tippel
Keyboard – Scott Pittman
Flute & Picolo – Lyndley Clarkson
Clarinet – April Kuhlman
Alto Saxaphone – Marcy Wilhelm
Trumpet – Steve Demuth
French Horn – Emily Grosvenor
Bass Guitar – Adam Kruse
Percussion – Bill Fegley
The voices of the cast were strong and beautiful, too, and well balanced with the orchestra. (Sound design by Don Drennen.)
Stacey “Jack” Johnson played the very huggable (to me, but not to the other poultry, unfortunately!) Ugly. He had an irrepressible “honk!” and an irresistible swim wiggle. His voice was powerful; I was touched by the innocence and earnestness in his voice as he sang, “My looks may well be funny, but I hurt the same inside.”
Kari Ann Stamatoplos played his hardworking mother, Ida. She was much more loving and devoted than the mother in the original Andersen story, thank goodness. She sang beautifully – seemingly effortlessly! – and had good comic timing. I laughed out loud when she told the ducklings to wipe their webs before coming back into the nest.
Four children played Ugly’s siblings, Billy (Sam Jacobi), Beaky (Lauren Raker), Downy (Hattie King), and Fluff (Morgan Ray.) They tumbled all over each other and marched along behind their mom in an adorable manner. They were a bunch of meanies when it came to Ugly, but that is what they were supposed to be.
Their dad, Drake (John Sparkman), was a bit of a bum at the beginning (Ida said she would have been better off pairing with a decoy!) but after Ida left on a journey to find their missing son, Drake was stuck taking care of the ducklings, and he became a better man, er, duck for it.
Sparkman also wore a monocle and played Greylag, the British captain of a hilarious flock of geese adventurers, later in the play. In fact, each of the supporting actors played two or more characters, and played them well. The whole poultry community was filled with quirky, distinct personalities and lovely voices. Here are just a few examples:
Craig Underwood played Turkey with an authentic yet expressive gobble in the barnyard. Later, out in the wide world, he played the aesthetically challenged Bullfrog and assured Ugly (and all of us) that “out there, someone’s gonna love ya, warts and all.” He and the Froglets twirled green frog umbrellas while they danced. Delightful!
Cathy Cutshall played the very sophisticated Grace, the top ranking duck in the barnyard, the one with the enviable red band around her ankle. She also played Queenie, the resident feline in a house that Ugly stumbled into on his journey. Queenie felt the same way about The Cat, who came chasing after Ugly, as I did.
Denise A. Fort played Lowbutt, the jealous house hen who did her best to get in the way of Queenie and Cat’s romance. Fort also played Ida’s well-meaning but not-helpful friend, Maureen, in the barnyard.
Erin M. Rettig played the obnoxious TV reporter, Maggie Pie, from “America’s Most Feathered.” Her cameraman was stage manager Dawn Frick. Rettig also played Penny, the gorgeous and mysterious creature that captured Ugly’s heart.
The set (designed by Aaron B. Bailey with properties by Lynne B. Robinson and Sonja Schoene) was enchanting, a cross between a preschooler’s farmyard play set and an adult’s lush memory of childhood. There was a copse for the ducklings, paths through cattails (whose “cigars” doubled as propeller blades in the goose brigade’s scene!), and a red barn that doubled as the Cat’s kitchen – also known as the “Kitty Kat Snack Shack: Fast Food for Famished Felines” – and a human house with oversized furniture. The show opened with peaceful, dappled light over everything. (Lighting designed by Dan Drennen.)
At one point, though, Ida and Ugly went for his first swim. Ugly loved the water! The special effects for this portion of the show transformed the stage to reflect his joy and wonder. The regular lights went down and a black light came up. Schools of glow-in-the-dark fish glided past Ugly as he frolicked “underwater.” (The program says that Jennifer King, April Raker, and Michelle Ray were the “gorgeous ladies of glow paint.”) Bubbles poured forth from somewhere in the ceiling (I couldn’t figure out where!) and the audience oohed and ahhed.
It was very cool.
I admired the creativity of the costume designers, Linda Rowand and Susan Sanderock, too. They did not put anybody in bird or animal costumes but rather came up with whimsical outfits that fit the characters’ essences. The ducklings wore bright orange shirts, yellow overalls, and yellow caps to fit their playfulness. Ida wore several layers of homey petticoats over orange tights. Grace wore a fitted brown dress suit and carried a walking stick. The swan family wore black-and-white silk, in shapes like something out of a New York fashion show. These are just a few examples.
I took a lot of notes for this enjoyable show. The man sitting next to me asked what I was writing, so I gave him my “Indy Theatre Habit” card. He turned out to be Jeff Best, vice president of the board of the Hendricks Civic Theatre, on the far west side of Indy. I have not seen any of their shows yet, but I would like to. Best shared with me some of the exciting progress that they have made towards getting a building of their own. He also invited me to see their upcoming production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I can’t find any information about this show on their website right now, but I will keep my eye out for it.
When director D. Scott Robinson gave the curtain talk for “Honk!” on Saturday night, he emphasized that Buck Creek is an all-volunteer organization and that they are celebrating their 34th (!) season. Flex passes for the 2008-2009 season were available at a bargain price on Saturday night. I don’t know if they are still available, but it would be worth asking. Call the box office at 317-862-2270.
Buck Creek’s final show for this season is “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” with an all-youth cast. It opens Friday, July 25, 2008 and runs for two weekends.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com