The press office at Nyack, NY's Helen Hayes Theatre has been bombarded with poultry jokes for the past month, but that doesn't mean they're happy to see the theatre's current tenant, Honk!, exit on March 5. The musical, whose London production just won the Olivier Award, has been getting standing ovations since opening Feb. 12, according to spokesperson Mary Claire Giannelli.
"People do love it, although the Olivier Award didn't make as much difference as you might think. Until they see it, people tend to think it's just a `kids' show, which makes it a tougher sell. They're impressed that it beat The Lion King [in London], but it didn't make a zillion people run to the theatre." That said, the Nyack mounting will have a future life; it'll be at MA's North Shore Music Theatre in June and probably do further regional dates after that. No word, however, on whether this version, or the London troupe, will reach Broadway.
Honk!, a family-oriented musical based on Hans Christian Andersen's story, "The Ugly Duckling," features Alison Fraser and Stephen DeRosa. The book and lyrics are by Anthony Drewe and music by George Stiles. The team previously wrote Just So, which was originally produced at Newbury's Watermill Theatre and subsequently at London's Tricycle Theatre, under the auspices of Cameron Mackintosh. More recently, Goodspeed Opera House's Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Connecticut staged a revised version.
Earlier versions of Honk! were seen at Newbury's Watermill Theatre (in 1993) and the Bay Street Theatre in New York (in 1995). Another production of the show was seen at Landor Theatre, a fringe theatre above a pub in Clapham, South London, this past autumn. The London Honk!, directed by Julia McKenzie, plays at the Royal National's Olivier Theatre.
The Andersen story tells of a duck -- he's actually nicknamed "Ugly" -- who feels tormented by his family and decides to go off on adventures of his own. He then meets up with a dangerous cat, a domesticated hen and a swan who changes his life. Fraser, whose New York musical appearances have included Romance/Romance and The Secret Garden (two Tony nominations), as well as March of the Falsettos, The Green Heart and Swingtime Canteen, plays the mother duck. DeRosa, who earned raves for his work in last season's Off-Broadway revival of The Mystery of Irma Vep, is the Cat. Gavin Creel stars as Ugly, with Evalyn Baron (a Les Miz Mme. Thenardier) playing the Swan. Also in the cast are Melissa Rain Anderson, Nancy Anderson, Stephen De Paul, Jill Geddes and Michael Mandell.
Scott Wise, one of the best-known male gypsies in the theatre, co- choreographs the musical with John MacInnis. Wise won a featured actor Tony for his show-stopping dancing in 1989's Jerome Robbins' Broadway. He was also nominated for his performance as State Fair's lady's man reporter Pat Gilbert. Directing Honk! is Gordon Greenberg, who previously staged Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for the Hayes Center.
Designing the Hayes Honk! are Jeff Croiter (lighting), Peter Fitzgerald (sound), Dawn Robyn Petrlik (costumes) and James Youmans, who co-designed the set with Petrlik.
Upcoming shows in the Hayes season include the King Lear-based ethnic comedy, King Levine (April 1-22). As he did in the show's West Coast premiere, Joe Bologna directs the piece, which stars comedian Sammy Shore.
Though St. Patrick's Day occurs a week earlier, Irish-minded theatregoers might want to check out a special booking at the Hayes, March 22-28: Packie's Wake. A hit in Derry, Ireland, the play tells of a man hit by a beer truck and getting to observe his own wake. This "Christmas Carol" style story has never been done in America and comes to the Hayes courtesy of the Playstation Theatre Company, which performs out of the St. Colomb's Theatre in Derry). Eddie Kerr is artistic director of the troupe and author of the comedy, which is not to be confused with the interactive Off-Broadway show, Finnegan's Farewell.
Tickets to Honk! range $24.50-$38.50. Honk! plays at the Helen Hayes PAC, 117 Main Street in Nyack. For information call (914) 358-6333.
[It should be noted that Honk! at Nyack's Helen Hayes Theatre is completely unrelated to the avant garde musical Squonk, now at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre, nor is it related to Everything's Ducky, Bill Russell and Henry Krieger's own updating of "The Ugly Duckling," which is currently having a hit West Coast run at TheatreWorks of Palo Alto.
-- By David Lefkowitz
and Mark Shenton