Billinghurst’s Honk! Jr.

Honk! Jr. is a comedic and musical take on the tale of the Ugly Duckling, featuring fowl with enough personality to rival the rabbits of Watership Down. The competent student actors/singers at Billinghurst Middle School perform a “poultry tale of folk down on the farm” about life that is “good and steady until they’re plucked and oven-ready.”

In the opening act, Drake the Duck (Mitch Bottoset) and his wife, Ida (Kayla Tuso), wait for their eggs to hatch. As Drake tries to shirk his egg-watching responsibilities, Ida reprimands him. “It doesn’t do good for a duck to look sheepish. It confuses the other animals.”

When the eggs begin to move, Ida commences Lamaze breathing, and when they hatch, she sings about the joys of motherhood, while the feet of the ducklings, stretched up in the air, no head in sight, dance and kick in unison. Very funny. The ducklings finally emerge cleverly costumed in white baseball caps with orange bills.

One egg doesn’t hatch though, and when it eventually does, the bird—wearing a propeller beanie, a gray sweater vest, and taped horn-rimmed glasses—looks much different than his siblings. Ugly (angel-voiced Russ Bagley) becomes the brunt of everybody on the farm’s jokes and decides to leave. The sly Cat (Ansley Barnard), who is determined to make duck l’orange out of Ugly, is hot on the ostracized bird’s trail as he travels the farm and meets military-minded geese, fashionable frogs and gentle swans. Everything wraps up tidy and happy.

The interactions between Drake, Ida and Ugly are right on, and the other 30 or so actors are strong in their roles. The messages that different is good and that books should never be judged by their cover are good for all audiences to hear. —M.J.