Rainbow Company's "Honk!" goes in and out of messiness and just as often hits bull's-eyes. One minute, you like it; the next, you don't.
The 1993 West End musical by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles is an amusing and touching adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling."
Before I explain the plot, I must share this: At the performance I attended, a young mother was telling her child, "This show is about the ugly duckling. Do you know that story? There was a ..." "No, Mommy!" the son exclaimed. "Don't tell me anything about the story!" (There's no local audience I enjoy more than Rainbow Company's.)
So, anyone reading this who shares the child's feelings might want to stop reading now.
Drewe's script starts with our hero's mother, Ida (played by Jennifer Keanini), patiently waiting for one of her eggs to hatch. When it does, she (and everyone else in the neighborhood) is shocked to find a strange animal that honks instead of quacks. He's called Ugly (Lucas Reilly). On top of all the ridicule, poor Ugly has to worry about a disinterested father (Brandon Dold) and the unwanted attention of a hungry cat (Ernest Reynolds), while pining for a seemingly out-of-reach beautiful swan (Breauna Read).
Director Karen McKenney's production, with a 34-member cast and a nine-member orchestra, often lacks pizazz. There are too many vocalists who don't put their songs over, too many dances that mock the material instead of illuminating it.
At the center of the production is an unfortunate choice: Reilly has been directed to play the lead role as a one-dimensional freak. He's repetitive and uninteresting. The first act ends on a poignant moment, but it's difficult to get involved because the characters haven't been fleshed out.
When Reilly's duckling is transformed, though, the actor seems to come alive for the first time. Reilly could play this part, and could be good at it, if only he had been allowed to make it human.
The energy is initially low wattage, but it kicks in with a bang when adults Michael Connolly and Nancy Marcellus take the stage as a military-loving gander and goose. They bring out the lunacy in their roles with startling attack, while never losing their grip on character reality.
Playing the father, 19-year-old song-and-dance man Dold has a pure, unaffected performance style that enhances his talents. And 7-year-old Will Haley, as an Ugly sibling, proves himself a natural-born scene stealer.
A good hunk of the enjoyment is watching how simply and creatively Kris Van Riper expresses the physical environment - from huge, cut-out "eggs" to a frighteningly big flame-lit boiler on a stove. You eagerly anticipate the tricks up the designer's sleeve.
When the sentiment of the story's final section takes hold, the exuberance soars. You come away feeling good. But not as good as one usually hopes for when in Rainbow's care.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at email@example.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.