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Musical Comedy with book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe and music by George Stiles, based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen. Directed by Julia McKenzie. Designed by Peter McKintosh with lighting by Mark Jonathan.
Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale has been transformed into a modern musical comedy for all the family. From the moment `Ugly' is hatched by the duckpond, the show brims with charm, witty lyrics, catchy songs and a cast of ducks, geese, turkeys, bullfrogs and an indefatigable cat.
The highly acclaimed actress Julia McKenzie has previously given award-winning performances in Guys and Dolls and Sweeney Todd at the National. She now returns as a director, with a new production of a show that she first staged at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have established an international reputation for their musical scores, revues and cabaret songs. They have written three other musicals together: Tutankhamun, Just So (winner of the Vivian Ellis Prize) and Peter Pan.
Cast: Jude Akuwudike, David Alder, David Bamber, Jasper Britton, Allyson Brown, David Burt, Pauline Carville, Anthony Clegg, Edward Gower, Ceri Ann Gregory, Jamaine Hockley, Leila Joyce, Beverley Klein, Jane Lancaster, Annabel Leventon, Leigh McDonald, Samantha Matthew, Omar F Okai, Alastair Parker, Kai Pearce, Sara Powell, Myra Sands, Adrian Sarple, Imane Soussi, Gilz Terera (as Ugly) and Sean Williams.
NTEnsemble99 Company: Trevor Nunn and John Caird have devised a season of work to be presented in the Olivier and Cottesloe theatres by an ensemble of fifty actors throughout 1999. The six plays pose some of the most urgent questions raised by human experience and represent the dilemmas and dramatic styles of the last four centuries. The productions are Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, Bernteins' Candide, Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Money, Maxim Gorky's Summerfolk, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and Rita Dove's The Darker Face of the Earth.
RNT OLIVIER Theatre Previewed 11 December, Opened 16 December 1999, Closed 25 March 2000
Extracts from the reviews:
"Julia McKenzie's production of Honk! for the NT Ensemble is an exuberant smash hit that will delight parents every bit as much as their children... it is clear that in Drewe we have a lyricist/book-writer of rare wit and ingenuity, and in Stiles a composer of great range, as capable of music-hall pastiche and jaunty novelty numbers as he is of yearning anthems and touching love songs. With Spend Spend Spend now wowing audiences at the Piccadilly, the future of the British musical hasn't seemed so bright for years. Hans Christian Andersen's original story is only about 12 pages long and surprisingly dull. Stiles and Drewe have given it both sparky street cred and a likeable message urging tolerance of other people's differences... Young children may need help in identifying the animals, but this is a show that encourages them to use their imagination, and to recognise that its real subject isn't farmyard creatures but their own lives and behaviour. The ensemble is in cracking form, with sharp, inventive definition in almost every performance. McKenzie, who has always put me in mind of a clucking mother hen herself, also scores some real directorial coups - a shimmering underwater sequence, a blizzard brilliantly conjured with white umbrellas, and a hilarious Busby Berkeley pastiche for green-flippered and begoggled frogs... It's a lovely production and, if there is any justice, Honk! will do for Stiles and Drewe what Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat did for Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber." The Daily Telegraph
"Cheery, chirpy and chock-full of fowl yolks - sorry, I mean foul jokes - of the punning variety, the NT's seasonal family show is a bit of a lark. Composer George Stiles and writer Anthony Drewe, long-time wannabes on the musical scene, have finally hit the jackpot, adapting and updating Hans Christian Andersen's testament to the triumph of personality over flashy plumage with wit and vibrant good humour. Director Julia McKenzie draws exuberant, likeable performances from the actors of the NT ensemble, whose singing voices are not necessarily their best selling point, and Peter McKintosh's bright, toybox set is a delight. The show is perhaps too long for either a young child's attention span or for the very simple story. The lyrics are far more distinctive than the music, and McKenzie's production sometimes seems under-rehearsed. But these are minor quibbles with such a quacking - sorry, cracking - entertainment... this is terrific fun, for parents and children alike. Jokes and puns fly thick and fast, and the music, though bland, has a bouncy impetus. There's the delicious sight of David Bamber at the head of an RAF squadron of geese, a digression on class by a domesticated cat and chicken, and a Busby Berkeley chorus of frogs for the hymn to inner beauty, Warts and All... Andersen's message of tolerance comes through clear and strong. Forgiveably flawed, Honk! is packed with wit, energy and admirable moral purpose. If anyone tells you different, flip them the bird." The London Evening Standard
"Honk! surely some mistake there? I'm not much of a naturalist and god, knows, the last person on earth who could be described as a car mechanic, but I'd always understood that honking was something done by geese or automobiles. This utterly delicious new musical version of the 'Ugly Duckling' story by
George Stiles and Anthony Drewe has widened my horizons on the issue... Directed with exhilarating vim, bounce and impeccable timing by Julia McKenzie... Honk! pulls of the considerable trick of delighing children and winking wickedly at adults simultaneously, without ever resorting to double
standards... The outrageous bits were more to my taste than the faintly sanctimonious numbers where we were assured of every creature's right to be different, rather in the manners of a concert by Barbara Streisand... Whichever way you slice it it, this Ugly Duckling is a Christmas quacker." The Independent
"What do we want for Christmas from the National Theatre? Preferably something with magic and mystery on the lines of Peter Pan or The Wind in the Willows. But this year we get a middling British musical by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe that, however colourfully presented, drains Hans Christian Andersen's original story of its limpid grace and beauty. The show is intended as a hymn to nonconformity, yet nothing could be more
resolutely conformist than Stiles's music and Drewe's book and lyrics, which pay the usual obeisance to the cliches of showbusiness... But one wonders who the show is aimed at, since it is decked out with theatrical camp and dubious double entendres. Jasper Britton's predatory Cat is turned into a leering, epicene bird-molester who appears round doorways crying: "Hello ducky." Meanwhile Lowbutt and Queenie, a co-habiting hen and pussy, are played as a bickering couple straight out of The Killing of Sister George: at one point Lowbutt tells Queenie: "It's as much as you can do to get your flap open." Try
explaining that one to the children... The beauty of Andersen's story is that the hero is allowed to rejoice in his physical translation. Here we get a stick-on moral - "Just believe in yourself, don't be left on the shelf" - that epitomises the show's journeyman banality." The Guardian