DANISH writer Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale story The Ugly Duckling was written in 1843, but as young Maitland actor-director Matthew Collins has discovered its story is timeless.
The story’s central character is a supposed duck, whose unusual appearance has led other creatures in a farmyard to call him Ugly, leading to the worried bird heading off in search of himself.
Musical theatre composing team Anthony Drewe and George Stiles transformed the story into an award-winning musical called Honk! in 1993, and the show’s popularity led to it being converted recently into a 70-minute version for young performers under the title Honk! Jr.
Maitland Musical Society is staging Honk! Jr as a school holiday show at Maitland in the January break, with a 21-member cast aged between five and 18.
Collins, the sole 18-year-old cast member, is getting experience at directing, as well as playing Jay Bird, the host of an animal-run television show called America’s Most Feathered.
The production adheres to the tradition of having the animals’ garb being human wear, with the fabrics, colours and styles suggesting the creatures.
The young actors also have to indicate the parallels between the animals and humans.
Matthew Collins’ Jay Bird, for example, has two short scenes in which he amusingly gives his version of what is happening on the farm to the animals and audience.
Emily Causley, 13, is playing her first main role as Ugly, and notes that the supposed duckling has very different interactions with each of the characters, among them the worried mother, Ida, and the manipulative Cat.
Ugly’s concerns are voiced in the engaging solo Different.
Many of the actors, including 16-year-old Gabby Corrie, play multiple roles, as well as being part of the ensemble.
Corrie is Dot, a goose, and the farm’s Mother Swan.
She points to Dot being an uptight military-style character, who sternly says “This needs to be done”, while Mother Swan is sweet and more relaxed.
The show, which has Angie Hutchison-Ussher as musical director and Stuart Ussher as choreographer, opens at St John’s Hall, the Pro Cathedral in Cathedral Street, Maitland (at the intersection with High Street), on Friday, January 5.
Performances there are on Friday and Saturday, at 7.30pm, and Sunday, at 2pm, until January 14.
The musical’s Dungog performances are at the James Theatre on Saturday, January 20, at 7.30pm, and Sunday, January 21, at 2pm.
Tickets: $20, concession and child 5 and over $15, family ticket $60; child 4 and under, free.