Celebrating difference

Nevada Rep presents a kids’ production with a heart-warming message

Cast members of <i>Honk!</i> get suited up as their animal characters before the show.

Cast members of Honk! get suited up as their animal characters before the show.

Photo By David Robert

Rated 4.0

Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Ugly Duckling nearly 200 years ago, and I think if he were alive, he’d be pleasantly entertained with Nevada Repertory Company’s adaptation, Honk!

The fairy tale goes: All’s well around the millpond, as a mother duck sits on her clutch of eggs, awaiting the arrival of her chicks. One egg is not only a different hue, but also twice as large as the others. From the big egg comes the ugly duckling, who is ridiculed by the other farm animals to such a degree that he wanders off shortly after he’s born in the spring. He survives the winter, and by the next spring, it is revealed that he’s not a duck after all, but a beautiful swan.

The very creatively disguised cast members make good farm animals in their bright costumes, with wild gesticulations and dancing around the stage. A mini orchestra at the back of the stage, shielded by a black screen, plays wonderful music throughout.

The real show-stealer is Kevin M. Sak as Cat. He’s fun to watch in his black velour shirt with his sleek, sly body movements; he’s also fun to listen to, as he (as logic says all cats do) speaks with a French accent. He also wears a painted-on moustache and a beret. When he sings, “Play with your food before you eat it,” as he tries to turn Ugly (Bradford D. Ka’ai’ai) into lunch, it was hilarious as well as accurate for anyone who’s ever watched a cat play with a mouse before killing it.

Cheryl Anselmo as Queenie, another cat, plays very well against Sak. When asked by Ugly what a house cat does all day, she sings that, besides eating and sleeping, “I sit and chat and chat and sit, and sometimes I arch my back and let sparks fly off my back.” She’s a sexy kitty in her black mesh lounging gown with its fur-trimmed neckline. There were some adults-only lines, but those came and went so fast that I doubt any children caught them.

I especially enjoyed the snobby, militant geese, with their high-falutin’ British accents, and the frogs. When Ian Rossi bounds across the stage with a lily pad as Bullfrog, whose big, happy smile is infectious, his words of advice to Ugly are: “One day, someone’s gonna love ya, warts and all.” Of course, when Ugly turns into a swan, he’s not only “normal"—he’s gorgeous!

Though the crucial scenes are “Look at Him,” during which Ugly is first tormented, followed by “Different,” where he’s alone to ponder what he just experienced, the message is clear: Different isn’t naughty or wrong or spiteful; different can be swell. But by the time Ka’ai’ai appears at the end as the swan, I doubt anyone can recall his “ugliness.”

Never mind what Andersen intended when he wrote the fairy tale—this version is meant to get laughs and to entertain. Any social messages about accepting others who are different are subtle, and are bypassed as the honking duckling turns into a swan. (Do swans really honk?) I recommend not giving that much thought: Sit back and enjoy the show.