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Posted July 18, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Swan song

Ida encourages Ugly to try swimming for the first time in Winchester Little Theatre's production of "Honk! Jr." — Rich Cooley/Daily

From left, Ellen Yancey, 15, left, plays Maureen, Zoe Thomas, 14, plays mother duck Ida and Michael Bloom, 17, plays Drake in "Honk! Jr." — Rich Cooley/Daily

In Winchester Little Theatre’s musical production “Honk! Jr,” the story of the ugly duckling, Taylor Bloom, 17, right, plays Ugly, and Lauren Fleming, 17, plays the Cat. — Rich Cooley/Daily

WLT for Kids takes crack at first musical in nine years

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

The story of "The Ugly Duckling," the latest production at Winchester Little Theatre promises more than a few surprises for audiences of all ages.

In a classic tale of a swan born to a family of ducks, Ugly feels out of place and hideous among his cuter siblings, but "Honk! Jr.," by Anthony Drew, intends to leave the audience with the message that being different is OK.

It's a scaled down version of the musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story that made its way to Broadway.

"I figured it was time to do a musical," said program director Sarah Gomez, "and as you can see there's talent in abundance."

"Honk! Jr." will be WLT for Kids' 10th play and its first ever musical, a fitting triumph in a summer such as this, when the program has also, for the first time, attempted two productions.

In lead rolls are twins Michael and Taylor Bloom, 17, who play father and son, respectively. Taylor plays Ugly, the unexpected son in a family of energetic little girls, and Michael the uncertain father Drake who at first cannot handle the challenge of raising a child so different.

In the musically demanding roll of mother duck Ida is Zoe Thomas, 14, who previously played a handmaiden in last summer's "The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood," with Michael as Robin and his brother Taylor as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Other roles include Ellen Yancey as Maureen the Moore Hen, Josh Morgan as Greylag, Maeve Fidler as Dot, Johnny Chesek as Bull Frog and Lauren Fleming as the Cat.

The characters wear human clothes even though they portray barnyard animals. Colors of clothing derive from natural markings to enhance the quality of fairy tale creatures.

Gomez compares composer George Stiles' style to that of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein.

"This music is equally beautiful," she said.

Though rehearsals for music began only a few short weeks ago on June 18, Gomez said, "They learned it the first week," adding, in explanation, "they're kids."

"These kids, a lot of them have been in school plays," she said, but many are first time performers, too.

Next they added choreography, but the cast and crew had to rehearse off site while "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was on stage.

"Snow White," which ran in June, was a success, Gomez said. It featured two separate casts doubling for the same characters, something its director Roxie Orndorff planned partly to help include more actors in the program.

"Honk! Jr" has one cast of actors for 12 performances, but the task of selecting from the leagues of actors auditioning was trying, Gomez said.

"We had 65 kids audition," she said.

Of those selected for the 20-person cast, "I would say very few have had any kind of training or voice lessons," Gomez said.

"Our four ducklings are amazing," she said. "And every year, same with this show and same with 'Snow White,' we have about 20 percent returning kids."

Being a part of the summer program grants the young actors the chance of gaining incite into the inner workings of a theater, what Gomez called "an unprecedented opportunity."

She and Orndorff have combined the casts of both shows whenever they could for workshops in costume design and improvisation.

"They become a real family, these kids do," Gomez said.

Though on a grander scale this time around, WLT for Kids has performed "The Ugly Duckling" before, she said.

"It's kind of nice eight years later to be doing the musical performance," she said. Like the story, the play's message endures, she said. "It's OK to be different."

"Honk! Jr." will take the stage at Winchester Little Theatre July 21 to 22 and 25 to 28, with two performances a day, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. For tickets and information, visit wltonline.org or call 663-3331.

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