First cast as Ugly in a high school production of HONK!, Nathan Carroll chuckles at remembering it as somewhat insulting. But that was half a lifetime ago, and he’s got a new perspective on the central character in the musical retelling of The Ugly Duckling.
Leading up to the debut at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, he enthuses about the role and magical world created by the stage production.
“It’s a joy to play – it’s such a fun story.”
The musical comedy tells the story of Ugly, a late-hatcher who isn’t quite the same as his fluffy yellow siblings … and the trials and tribulations that flow from that.
This take on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale features more comedy and, of course, music, Carroll notes.
“It’s really influenced by the British pantomime style. All the characters I meet along the way are larger than life,” he explains. “It’s more comic, but it’s still got that heart-warming story. It’s a really good show for the family.”
While Ugly’s father Drake rejects his awkward fledgling, mother Ida sees something more in the little duck. After being lured away from his home by a wily Cat, he embarks on a quest to find his mother. With the help of a few new friends (including a comical troupe of geese and a jovial bullfrog), his journey home becomes both an exciting coming-of-age adventure and an exuberant celebration of being different.
It’s those fellow animal travellers that lend themselves to both the comedy and the magic of the play, Carroll adds.
“What’s nice about playing animals is that it’s natural to break out singing at points,” he says of the magical world where such things happen, aided by the “fantastic” costumes and sets.
Written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the team behind the stage adaptation of Mary Poppins, HONK! opened in the UK in 1997, moving in 1999 to National Theatre in London, where it won the Olivier award for best new musical, beating both Mamma Mia! and The Lion King.
HONK! features fun-filled musical numbers such as “Hold Your Head Up High,” “Warts and All” and “Transformation.”
Carroll is no stranger to musicals, having appeared as Terry Fox in Drayton Entertainment’s production of Marathon of Hope: The Musical. He has also appeared in the original Canadian cast of Once with Toronto’s Mirvish Productions (2015 Dora Award for Best Production and Best Ensemble) and The Wizard of Oz with Young People’s Theatre (2016 Dora Award Winner for Outstanding Ensemble – Musical Theatre Division).
Susan Gilmour is the devoted mother duck, Ida. Gilmour previously appeared as the Mother Superior in Sister Act and as Marilla in Anne of Green Gables. Kyle Blair, who was Phil Davis in White Christmas, returns to St. Jacobs Country Playhouse to play the scheming Cat. Blair is a regular at the Shaw Festival and recently appeared in Me and My Girl and Androcles and the Lion. Fresh off his performance as Lonny in Rock of Ages at the Dunfield Theatre Cambridge, Aaron Walpole takes on the role of the enthusiastic bullfrog, among other characters. Walpole has appeared in Les Misérables and Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway and the national tour of Kinky Boots.
Veteran performers Larry Mannell, Charlotte Moore and Susan Johnston Collins take on several roles in the production, including Ugly’s disapproving father Drake, and the gossipy hens Grace and Maureen, respectively.
Rachel Babor, Eric Da Costa, Sam DiGuiseppe, Sarah Higgins, Kayla James, Tim Porter, Margaret Thompson, and Christine Watson round out the cast who bring this funny farmyard to life on the stage.
Drayton Entertainment has also engaged 28 local young performers as the Children’s Chorus, with the kids taking turns throughout the run in two teams of 14.
Now on stage at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, HONK! runs through December 24. Tickets are $46 ($27 for youth under 20), available online at www.draytonentertainment.com, in person at the box office, or by calling 519-747-7788 or toll free at 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).