Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Monday 16th April 2012
This adaptation of the well-known Hans Christian Anderson tale, The Ugly Duckling, won the Best New Musical Olivier award in it's debut year in the West End, beating off a couple of little shows called Mamma Mia! and The Lion King. Quite an achievement, although seemingly the audiences didn't agree, as Honk! falls into the lesser known obscurity of musical theatre, while Mamma Mia! and The Lion King are still packing out their West End houses 12 years on.
Aimed most definitely at children, but speckled with some humour for their parents to appreciate, the show follows the story of Ugly, the last-hatched son to Drake and his wife Ida.
Ugly is played by a bespectacled and splendidly awkward Bart Lambert, wringing all of the naivety and appeal out of the captivating lead character. His voice is strong and importantly his diction is very clear - a worthy achievement from which some of the supporting cast members should learn. Despite too little variety in facial expression to reach out from behind the heavy glasses, this is an accomplished performance.
Drake (Sam Toland) is played with smarm, but likable charisma, delivering his array of jokes with style and a cheeky grin. Sam is an established local talent, and the strength and control in his singing voice belies his tender years. Perhaps a little too relaxed in this opening night performance, momentarily slipping out of character to ironically smile at sections of the audience, he nevertheless is undoubtedly destined for a life in the limelight.
His wife Ida (Sophie Walker) was worrying in her first number, but was perhaps let down by a lack of warm up or first night nerves, for once she had relaxed into the part she was delightful. Full of expression and heartfelt warmth, her portrayal of the unconditional love of motherhood is tender and believable. Her pretty voice is well maintained, although at time lacks the guts to match up to the male leads.
The villain of the piece is the suave, covetous Cat, played by an excellent Luke Higgins. Luke's lithe physicality and feline characterisation is absolute. His voice is not the strongest in the cast, although it suits his numbers more than adequately, but the commitment to his performance in this gem of a role is the standout accomplishment of the night and I looked forward to every time he slunk on stage.
Among the supporting cast, there were some particularly successful numbers. The Wild Goose Chase was a very funny section, and if James Bantock as Greylag had only slowed the pace of his delivery so we could understand everything he was saying, he and his bushy moustache would have stolen the scene. Warts And All, led by Elliott Elder as Bullfrog whose adept performance was full of charm, eventually built to include the entire ensemble dressed as frogs in a number that seemed to delight the cast as much as the audience.
It feels a shame for the hardworking young actors that the opening night was barely half full. A reasonably late end time however does seem obstructive for their target audience of little'uns, as does the almost professionally high ticket prices for their paying parents. Nonetheless, it is certainly not the cast letting CYGAMS down, and those who do get to see Honk! will be treated to some very enjoyable performances.