Ugly is a character who doesn’t quite fit in. The tale of his struggles is a bit different, too.
“It is the story of ‘The Ugly Duckling,’ but with a new and modern twist,” director Brock Butler said of “Honk! Jr.,” the upcoming Elkhart Civic Theatre production at Bristol Opera House. “It’s not your grandma’s ‘Ugly Duckling.’”
In the show, Ugly hatches into the world emitting a loud “honk.” Humiliated by his dad and sibling ducks, he runs away and gets lost. Ugly ultimately finds his way home, and picks up some self-esteem along the way.
“Honk! Jr.” has a theme that being different can be wonderful, and Butler said the message is paramount to the production. That said, “Honk! Jr.” is not preachy.
“It doesn’t beat you over the head with it the way a lot of message shows do,” Butler said. “... It doesn’t talk down to the audience or the actors.”
Butler said “Honk! Jr.” has humor that will appeal to adults and children alike, and great music. Then there’s the cast of 8- to 18-year-olds putting on the show as part of ECTeam, Elkhart Civic’s youth theater group.
“I’ve got 30 great kids in the cast who I just love and adore,” Butler said, adding that “Honk! Jr.” is a show he’s wanted to direct for a long time.
“I’m having a ball doing it,” he said.
Also enjoying his time with “Honk! Jr.” is Gavin Rusel, who plays Ugly. The 13-year-old home-schooled student has performed in Elkhart Civic productions including “Seussical” and “Ramona Quimby.” “Honk! Jr.” marks Rusel’s first time in a lead role.
“It was a little nerve-wracking, but it was also very exciting,” he said. Rusel added that the directors are really good and have helped him throughout the production.
Rusel described his character as someone who’s initially very unsure of himself and feels others are making fun of him for no reason. Along the way, Ugly meets a lot of interesting characters, including geese, frogs and a cat that tries to eat him.
“(Ugly) actually figures out that he’s a swan, so then he’s OK with being different,” Rusel said. “It’s a really fun role.”
Rusel also said it’s fun to see the progression Ugly goes through during the show.
“It’s good to see that he does progress,” he said. “I think I get better at doing that every time.”
In addition to Rusel, the “Honk! Jr.” cast includes Ugly’s mom and dad, respectively played by Sara Nolan and Joel Lininger. Ugly’s siblings are played by Hannah Shetler, Kiya Bonds, Morgan Dyer and Elijah Lee, and the hungry cat is portrayed by Bethany Wirick.
Denizens of the pond are played by Sydney Cox, Damian Stoner, McKenna Kaczanowski, Kellie MacGowan, Cali Katzenberger, Cadie Lee, Brant Gingerich, Joe Musser and Bonnie MacGowan. The cast also includes Katharine Robey, Audri Chagoya, Bobby Kiefer, Savion Bias, Hope Campbell, Ricky Iniesta, Kayla Thompson, Ariana Arce, Bianca Chagoya, Jordana Farran, Kara McCrindle, Katie Ouellette, Samantha Sarber and Anastasia Minne.
Karen Johnston is the show’s assistant director. Kim Dooley directs the vocals, and Kristen Riggs is the choreographer.
If you want to go
ECTeam Youth Theatre performances of “Honk! Jr.” are set for 7 p.m. Friday, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Bristol Opera House, 210 E. Vistula St., Bristol. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $8 for students and senior citizens age 62 and older. To reserve tickets, call 574-848-4116 Monday through Friday from 1 to 5:30 p.m. or purchase them online at www.elkhartcivictheatre.org.