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Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Family Honk Evening

I knew the story of the Ugly Duckling, of course, but hadn't seen the musical. The bullfrog was standing ovation material.

Last (Monday) evening found most of the Rodebacks at American Fork Junior High's auditorium, attending the American Fork Arts Council's Youth Theater production of the British musical Honk! (Junior version), an adaptation of the Ugly Duckling tale. It was the third of three performances; the first two were last week.

I generally will avoid reviewing the children's performances; they were learning and having fun, not playing to critics. But I do have a few observations. (If I didn't, what manner of blogger would I be?)

With music by George Stiles and book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe, the musical is written as much for the children's parents as for the children themselves. The intermittent, witty, somewhat unpredictable social commentary suffers a bit when delivered by children who don't fully grasp it, but it is not entirely lost. I had the impression on several occasions that the children on stage didn't understand why the adults in the audience were laughing. But there's plenty going on besides that to amuse and interest children.

Some of the large cast (about 60) were particularly impressive. None of the cast seemed to be suffering a shortage of enthusiasm. Nor did their family members, who presumably comprised most of the 200 or 300 in the very appreciative audience. Some of the music seemed to be written for adult voices, but the children generally made pleasant work of it, anyway.

There were a few unfortunate things about the production, but none were the children's fault.

The recorded orchestral accompaniment was sometimes too sparse to support the young singers, except for one or two real stars. More than one of the other soloists struggled with pitch when the accompaniment was AWOL -- because of the score, not the equipment -- but sang quite beautifully when supplied with a few solid chords for reference. I suppose I understand the desire for economy, and perhaps even the preference for orchestra (even if taped) over live piano. Still, a live accompanist at a piano could have helped the singers enormously, where a recording couldn't.

Speaking of the recorded accompaniment, I don't know whether the sound crew deliberately turned the bass up way too high, or if that was just an artifact of the auditorium's notoriously inadequate sound system. And I wonder how some parents felt when their children's solos were completely inaudible -- or, just as often, intermittently so -- in an auditorium which is part of a school system for which we pay top dollar and then some. Someone told me last night that auditorium upgrades, presumably including a modern, properly functioning sound system, are part of what that enormous new pile of Alpine School District bond money is supposed to buy. I hope that's true.

One more note before I get off my soapbox: The show was a lot like modern movies and network television in one unfortunate way: Drake, Ugly's presumptive father, was written as a buffoon, like so many television dads.

I'll get off my soap box now.

Still, by and large, it was a pleasant evening . . .

I saved the best for last: The bullfrog -- whose name I won't mention here because he is a child -- was worth more than the $2.00 price of a ticket all by himself. I'll bet his energy and comic timing challenge a school teacher or two in real life, but tonight his scene absolutely stole the show. I hope to see him on stage again and again in the future.

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