Music by George Stiles, book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe
Neil-Michael Marlott Productions
On the surface, fairytales may well be the perfect musical material. Nice bite size story, equal opportunity for quirky numbers as for emotional and moralistic ones and, most importantly, lots and lots of silly costumes.
Honk! is an enjoyable take on the tale of the ugly duckling, showing the outcast ugly duck as he gets lost then grows into a beautiful swan, and there's enough light-hearted fun and good music to make the evening work.
Sure the script relies a little too heavily on duck jokes, but there were costumes changes all over the place and any musical that features a multicoloured ball pit is doing something right. Unfortunately, despite some charming elements, this is a charm that's stretched thin, with a musical that's enjoying more the secondary characters than the main storyline.
This might be in part because the fairytale source material doesn't really offer too much: ugly gets lost, becomes beautiful, so there's a large amount of padding that doesn't go anywhere. This is both with some songs that seem to be forced in, especially in the second act where Ugly gets lost and just meets people until enough time has passed for him to be found again, but also with numbers that start out strong but overstay their welcome. The result is that the action feels cluttered, with gimmicks that get in the way, and even the genuinely enjoyable characters - Tobias James as a leather-bound Tom Cat is a lot of fun - end up overused. It also has to be said that Ugly, as a character, is too whiny a character to be enjoyable. Andrew Newton plays him well, if earnestly, and he has a solid voice, well showcased in the ending numbers, but as a central character Ugly's not very interesting.
There are also some terrible acoustics in the Lost Theatre, with the band, drums in particular, often overpowering the singers. This is a genuine shame because, taken separately, both perform very well, with some great trumpet playing and Rhiannon Rose really hitting the notes during the slower ballads.
Still, despite these issues, there are some good numbers, "Warts and All" in particular, and the cast is visibly enjoying itself. Plus, while it relies too heavily on them, this musical has some great secondary characters with four sister ducklings that are enjoyable quacking bullies, and the older swans are brilliantly patronising.
Honk! is a musical that's let down by the threadbare fairytale story it's trying to tell and ends up being too long and overusing its good elements. Still, this is a fun production and there's enough good music and cheery quirkiness to make for a good evening.
Reviewer: Tobias Chapple