Fun show is ready for the spotlight

Eli Dagostino and Shaelah Huntington: Photo by Ralph Stewart
Eli Dagostino (left) and Shaelah Huntington rehearse for West Tisbury's play. Photos by Susan Safford

By Molly Hitchings - March 23, 2006

There is no chaos like show chaos, especially just before opening night. It's a shame they don't sell tickets for rehearsals, because the frantic preparations are just as entertaining as the performance itself.

At the West Tisbury School on Monday afternoon, co-director BeeBee Horowitz had a few more minutes before the cast of "Honk! Jr." finished their vocal exercises and flooded into the gym. "Everyone is just starting to understand how much is going on," she said.

The stage lights were assembled along the wall. Props were piled on tables. In the back of the gym, costume designer Anita Smith distributed paper bags of costumes. On the stage, teacher Dan Johnson hammered out the last set pieces.

Mandarin Duck played by Lauren Gray and Peacock Duck played by Marguerite Smith in the original play, "Honk! Jr.": Photo by Ralph Stewart
Mandarin Duck played by Lauren Gray (left) and Peacock Duck played by Marguerite Smith in the original play, "Honk! Jr."
"We're still getting used to working on the stage," said technical crew member Genevieve Hammond, taping down wires. The other techies experimented with unfamiliar equipment: Mariah MacKenzie did a sound check while Jesse Fogg clambered high into the booth.

BeeBee, with a background as an actress, has expansive goals for the production, so the set is especially ambitious this year.

"Honk! Jr." is a musical comedy based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling." Creators George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have preserved the story's message of tolerance and patience, punching it up with humor to suit modern audiences of all ages.

"It's a fun show, with great music," said BeeBee, arranging cat-o'-nine-tails around the stage.

"Between the lines, there's so much being said about people and about attitudes," said Veronica Conover, a parent volunteer. "It speaks to all ages."

Music teacher Jordan Winderl discovered "Honk! Jr." while student-teaching in Kingston. Raised in upstate New York and freshly graduated from Eastern Nazerene College in Quincy, Jordan started at West Tisbury School in September. "Honk! is the first show I've directed, so I wanted to choose something I was familiar with," she explained.

"She's awesome; I love Jordan," Mariah said.

"Jordan is one of the best music teachers I've ever had." said fourth-grader Kane Araujo, who is not in the play but wanted to express his admiration.

Eli Dagostino plays Ugly, whose gawky appearance makes him an outcast. Ugly finally flees the farm and makes friends along his journey to self-acceptance.

Eli scored the lead role with his rendition of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The fifth-grader brings years of acting experience to the production, including an appearance on Saturday Night Live. But he says that Jordan cast him as Ugly the duckling because he would work hard. "She knew she could count on me to learn all the lines," Eli said.

Zaida Clarke plays Ugly's mother, who sticks by her misbegotten son. Taylor Rasmussen is hilarious in the role of Drake, Ugly's father, who is less than supportive.

"Crude. I've been called a dirtbag," said Taylor when asked to describe his character. He hastened to add, "But it's all fake."

"I think this is the best play we've ever done," said seventh-grader Sarah Johnson, who plays a chicken.

Sixth-grader Jake Sudarsky appears as J-Bird, a newscaster on "America's Most Feathered." "I play a serious, get-down-to-work guy," he said. "But we've had a lot of fun working on this."

Art teacher Lisa Magnarelli built Ugly's oversized egg, and Sue Miller's fifth grade class painted it. On Monday morning the plywood egg waited in the art room with its polka-dotted companions. On the back were messages of good will from his classmates only Eli will see: "Break a leg and good luck, Eli!"

"This is a really great, committed group of kids," said Veronica Conover.

"Even when I've just peeked in on the rehearsals, there's always been a really good energy from the kids," Lisa Magnarelli said. "And they sing like angels."

Freelance writer Molly Hitchings is also a teaching assistant at the West Tisbury School.