Ugly the duckling is ugly. So ugly, in fact, that his deadbeat dad thinks he’s a turkey and his duckling siblings (one of whom is decidedly and enjoyably more British than the others) cut him out of their school picture. Not surprisingly, it’s a bit of a blow to his self-esteem. Mom Ida is the only one who believes in him, having witnessed his incredible natural swimming ability, and the face that only a mother could love, but when she gets distracted keeping tabs on her unruly yellow babies, Ugly falls into a trap with a cat craving foie gras.
Once he wises up to the fact that the slinky black cat doesn’t actually want to be friends with him, Ugly spends the rest of the year trying to find his way back home—getting increasingly lost, but making friends with militant geese, an aristocat, and a lovable bullfrog—while Ida packs up a suitcase to find her lost son because she feels guilty. Oh, and also because she loves him.
This joint production from UCSC’s Theater Arts Department and Shakespeare Santa Cruz is professional all the way through, though the cast is a mixture of seasoned actors and students. At times, it’s tough to tell the two apart. And with the song and dance and positive messages of individuality and a mother’s love, Honk! calls to mind the days of the classic Disney movies, pre-Twilight and Hunger Games, when bright colors, talking animals and four-part harmonies could captivate kids for hours.
But, just like in the classics, this isn’t just for the young’ns. There are plenty of jokes just for the parents, including a wide range of “quack” puns, commentary on marriage and motherhood, and a spicy tango between the scheming cat trying to eat Ugly for lunch and a sassy Siamese who, though proudly domesticated, is looking for a walk on the wild side. One outraged, underage and probably undernapped audience member even shouted out, “I don’t get why that’s funny!” at one such joke, which made it that much funnier.
And, of course, Honk! plays to everyone’s sensitive side, whether it’s gently nudging the little ones to tell them they’ll (eventually) be loved for their differences, or reflecting a mother’s love back at all the parents holding on to their kids for dear life in the audience. Even the hardest of hearts can’t deny that it’s quacking adorable.
‘HONK!’ runs through Dec. 9 at UCSC's Mainstage Theater.