Honk: The Musical – Pinetree's students exceed expectations extraordinarily!

Honk!
a musical – Music by George Stiles
Lyrics by Anthony Drewe

Director: Shanda Walters, Musical Director: Marcia Carmichael

January 14 to 23
Pinetree Secondary School

by Todd Wong – Reviewed January 14th, 2005
photo by Paul vanPeenen/NOW
The Cat played by Laura Du Preez, prepares to make a meal of Ugly played by
Mike Horntvedt.

I haven't seen a high school stage production since I
was in high school. In the past year, I have reviewed the Vancouver
Opera's production of Madama Butterfly, the action-musical Terracotta Warriors, Battery Opera's Reptile-Diva + attended
the touring production of Rent,
theatre plays at Firehall Arts Centre, Waterfront Theatre, Theatre in
the Park, and the inaugural production in Nanaimo for Denise Chong's
“The Concubine's Children.”  All have good and bad moments, some
have great moments, where I have to exclaim “Wow!”  This
production of “Honk” by Treehouse Productions has a number of “Wow!”
moments.

Honk is the award winning musical based on the Hans
Christian Anderson story about the Ugly Duckling.  An individual
grows up different from the rest, is named Ugly, and suffers low
self-esteem and negative self-identity.  He then goes on a
personal journey to discover who he really is.  Even when he first
meets like-minded individuals, he is slow to recognize the shared
values and assets. When he grows into himself and learns
self-acceptance, as well as valuing his traits such as
helping others and goodness-of-heart, then he truly comes into his
own and is finally accepted by those who first rejected and made fun of
him.  Gee, kind of like real life!

This is the first time a
musical theatre course was offered as a Fine Arts course at Pinetree
Secondary School, and the teachers were a little anxious about how it
would turn out.  They did not know how many students would
register, what calibre of performance the students were capable of,
would any males register or would it all be female?

Well, they
needn't have worried.  The all-student cast certainly exceeded
their performance expectations and shine at every opportunity they
get.  Several times during the production, spontaneous applause
erupted in the audience to acknowledge the fine acting on stage. 
This is amazing because many of the students in lead roles had not
acted before, or in the case of the Ugly Duckling's Mother, Ida,
played by Lisa Scott who told me she hadn't acted since Middle School.

Both Lisa Scott and Troy Hatt, exude confidence and
presence in their performances as the Mommy and Daddy ducks, named Ida
and Drake.  They sing and dance with aplomb and experience beyond
their high school years.  These kids were born to be on stage. Wow!

Watching the young woman who played The Cat (Laura Du
Preez), correction – the young actor who became a cat – was
amazing.  She slinked across the stage, with cat-like movements,
with cat-like attitude.  Even during the curtain call, she stayed
in character aloof and embarrassed by all the celebration of the bird
characters and by her own character's misadventures.  Wow!

And
then there was Bullfrog (Jeff Rawlings), more than just hopping onto
the stage, a personality emerged of Frog Wisdom from the swamp, the
equivalent of a Yoda to Luke Skywalker.  He was a singing and
dancing frog that reminded me of the brilliant classic cartoon where a
song sings “Hello My Baby.”  This Bullfrog was full of surprises,
and lots of “Wow” moments.

And then there is Ugly, played by Mike Hornvedt, who
must help his character mature from an unappreciated misfit to a
confident swan.  Hornvedt handles the role well, allowing the
situations to unfold around him, and letting the character experience
growth and confidence through each scene, as he  plays off each
new character he meets.  It is a gentle approach that very much
anti-heroic.

Even the smaller roles were
amazing.  Not over the top and over-acted – but sometimes subtlely
with simple facial expressions and actions, or with deeply thought out
characterizations, expressions and behaviors.  Good examples were
the Swans.  The pretty young female swan Penny (Janelle Eichel) is
rescued by our hero, Ugly. This Swan moves with grace
with through slow balletic motions that conjured up images of
Swan Lake, while simultaneously developing a possible love interest
role like Natalie Portman's Queen Amadilia to the Young Darth Vader.

Oh, and did I mention the musical production
numbers?  There is one number in particular that stands out, Ugly
meets a flock of geese.  He initally meets the the flock leaders,
Greylag and Dot (Troy Hatt, Lauren Frances), who are dressed like Air
Force officers.  Each sing and perform their roles
wonderfully.  Then it gets better.  The rest of the flock
joins them, and suddenly they are all singing and dancing in a Busby
Berkely-like production coordinated like a synchronized swimming team,
moving around a central singing character.  Then it gets
better.  That group next creates a formation that resembles an
airplane… and still there are more surprises.  Imagine what
happens when they put a parachute on The Cat, and take her with them
for a ride! Double and Triple Wow! 

How did all this happen?  How could high school
students, many who had never stepped foot on a stage, nor sung a
musical note before in their lives, suddenly become quality performers
generating spontaneous applause and standing ovations?

With a
lot of hard work, dedication and enthusiasm.  Theatre teacher
Shanda Walters and music teacher Marcia deserve a tremendous amount of
recognition and achievement in addition to credit.  Walters has
been emphasizing the importance of physical theatre in her recent work,
and the students were able to respond creating characters that easily
went beyond themselves. Simply put, they got out of their own skins and
climbed into new bodies and personalities.  This is easily said,
but harder to do when the only costume you are given is a change of
clothes that you would wear on the street, in which only the colour
designates what kind of animal you are.  For example a duckling
wore a yellow shirt, yellow skirt and orange leggings.  The frog
wore green pants and a jacket with large sunglasses.  Much harder
to create a barnyard animal characterization from street clothes and no
mask or make up – Wow!

The enthusiasm and quality of this
production reminded me of witnessing the National Youth Orchestra's
performance at the Chan Centre this past summer.  These were
simply the best of the best of Canada's young orchestral classical
musicians performing under the baton of conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama,
following a month of focussed rehearsals.  These are musicians who
train year round, performing in the leading youth orchestras across the
country with one of the most experienced conductors leading them. 
And the Pinetree secondary students simulated a similar drive and
enthusiasm to make their performance special, and give it that little
special extra oomph.  Director Shanda Walters says that she
“believes that student actors are capable of amazing work on stage,”
and the students certainly prove it under the  guidance and
expertise of Walters and Marcia Carmichael, who are themselves the
founders and current or past-presidents of the Coquitlam Drama Teachers
Association and the Coquitlam Music Teachers Association, as well as
actors, directors and performers in their own right.  Wow! and
Wow!

Go see Honk! for the simple reason of
seeing a quality high school musical theatre production.  You will
be amazed at what a simple “amateur” production can achieve.  Wow!

Tickets:Adults $10 Child & Seniors $8.
Call Pinetree Secondary School 604-464-2513
Final Performances are this weekend, January 21, 22.

Coquitlam Now's Preview: Ugly Duckling gets a new look.
Discover the composers' web page here: Honk!
See Tri-City News, and click on Entertainment

More to come…  and hopefully some pictures.

2005 Todd Wong

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