For the first musical since COVID, Western Middle School in Greenwich reinvents the ugly duckling with “Honk! Junior’

GREENWICH — A herd of 42 performers are set to hatch a musical this weekend at Western Middle School, and director Johanna Kolar says audiences should expect talent, fun and surprises.

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling,” “Honk! Junior.” tells the story of a duck unlike any other and what happens when a neighborhood cat marks the duck as easy prey.

Henry Fryer plays “Ugly,” whose odd appearance and startling “horn” become barnyard gossip. An eighth-grader, Fryer was set to perform in 2020 when the Spring Musical was canceled.

A cast of 65 students was a week and a half away from the opening night of “Aladdin” in March 2020 when the school transitioned to distance learning. Fryer said the disappointment was incremental as the show was delayed before it was canceled.

Kolar said she wanted to start from scratch this school year and chose a new musical instead of recasting “Aladdin.” She thought “Klaxon! Junior.” would be the perfect fit for a mask casting. Although masks are no longer required in schools, some performers will be wearing personal protective equipment this weekend.

Kolar said rehearsals, which began in December, have been more difficult as students readjust to dedicate time after the school day. She also went through quarantine guidelines and many missing actors.

Fryer said the cast of “Honk! Junior. is smaller than two years ago, the actors have the same energy. Kolar said she believes this year’s performances will rebuild the program to the size it had before the pandemic.

Eighth grader Emily Chang plays the cat playfully chasing the ugly duckling, singing, “You can play with your food before you eat it” as Fryer naively waddles through the scene.

Chang said she felt comfortable on stage at Hamilton Avenue School. She auditioned for “High School Musical Jr.” in fourth grade and was not given the role she wanted but was determined to make the most of her lines.

“I was so excited to show everyone what I could do,” she said. The following year, she starred as Willy Wonka in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“I kept going and I’m really happy because if I had stopped I would never have unlocked anything,” she said.

Her friends were surprised at her enthusiasm for acting, she said. She’s reserved in class, Kolar said, but is feisty and talkative on stage.

Tatiana Dias, who is in seventh grade, said she loves her place behind the scenes as set designer and sound technician. She said she never had much interest in acting but enjoyed helping out, whether it was opening cans of paint or putting batteries in microphones.

“I just love how you can still have a role and how you have a place to fit in,” she said. “It’s something to do where I can even get out of my own head.”

She can operate in organized chaos, she said, helping behind the busy backstage and jumping from task to task.

Ingrid Imp, an eighth-grader who plays a hen, has a busy schedule between theater, joy and school, she said. But she loves the musical because she can meet students from other grades and make new friends.

She was also cast in Aladdin, as part of a genie set, and said stepping up to a starring role this year is “time consuming but fun.”

The show opens at 7 p.m. Friday in the auditorium at Western Middle School. There will be a show at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday. The 7 p.m. shows are $10 and the 2 p.m. show is $8.

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