The magic of theater

MARSHALL – The process of putting on a musical is not an easy task, but the reward is great, Marshall High School theater students said after the final dress rehearsal for “Honk!” on Tuesday night.

“It has been one of the best experiences of my life,” said Ariel Smith, who is cast as Maureen, a moor hen. “I’ve been in the play every year, but this one has been an insane amount of fun, to finally be the cartoon character I’ve always dreamed of being. I get to be an animal on stage. What more can you want in life?”

“Honk!” is a high-energy, in-depth musical based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling.”

Public performances are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday at the MHS theater. There is also a special family matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday, with children getting free admission when they attend with an adult.

“The classic story of the ugly duckling all of a sudden forms into how he’s feeling, how his whole family is feeling and how everyone around him is feeling,” Smith said. “He gets lost and meets new people. Some are good, some are bad. There are neighborhood gossip ladies. You get to meet everybody in the story of ‘The Ugly Duckling.’ It goes so in-depth into the classic story that it’s so much fun. It’s great.”

While she enjoys her role, Smith said there have been some challenges.

“The biggest challenge is the fact that I have to talk really, really loud,” she said. “I also have to have my back arched, so I go home aching everywhere.”

Director Dan Smith said that more than 60 MHS students are involved in the musical production of “Honk!”

“That’s something we’re really excited about,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience to be part of a cast. It’s such a tight-knit community.”

Eukariah Tabaka portrays Ugly, while Emily Lyall is cast as Ugly’s mother, Ida. Heidi Goergen transforms into Penny, whom Ugly falls in love with. Danny West plays the role of the cat.

“The cat is the villain of the whole show,” West said. “I try to eat the ugly duckling but in the end, I fail.”

West got involved in theater late in his high school career, but he’s thankful for the experiences he’s had in that short amount of time.

“I was in the spring play last year, but I’ve never been in a musical before,” West said. “This was a cool experience, and I wish I would have done musicals way before this. It’s been a lot of fun.”

West’s most difficult scene is one where he actually gets winded.

“In ‘You Can Play With Your Food,’ I have this whole ‘Tom and Jerry’ scene where I’m running around a table, chasing Ugly,” he said. “It’s a workout because afterwards, I’m out of breath. Then I have to sing like these high notes and stuff.”

Troy Timmerman, cast as Drake, is also participating in his first-ever high school musical.

“It’s been a blast so far,” Timmerman said. “My character is pretty high-energy and kind of goofy. I get to mess around and have fun a lot of stage, so it’s awesome. I’m so glad I did it. It takes up a lot of time, but it’s worth it.”

The biggest challenge, Timmerman said, has been maintaining a high amount of energy on stage. The entertainment value of the musical, after two months of dedicated work, is one Timmerman said he’s proud of.

“When we started, we were just going through the songs and so it was hard to picture what the final product was going to be,” he said. “But now that I’ve seen it progress, it’s really fun and great to watch.”

Belle Chamberlain works behind the scenes as the student stage manager, while Isaac Marks assists.

“It’s been tough at some times but really, once you step back and see it, it’s just amazing,” Chamberlain said. “The biggest challenge is the lighting cues. I also take blocking notes, and there’s sound effect cues and just a little bit of everything.”

Despite the many job duties, Chamberlain is enjoying her first-time experience in theater.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I love it.”

A week ago, West wasn’t sure the musical was going to come together quick enough, but he’s impressed by what they’ve accomplished this past week.

“We still had a lot of work to do, but boy, the magic of theater came to life,” he said.

Director Smith is very familiar with the magic of theater and promotes opportunities for students to experience theater every chance he can. This show marks the first that Smith will direct since his own mentor – Tom Gaspar – died.

“He was my director in middle school and high school and a dear friend,” Smith said. “I’ve thought about him a lot this fall because musical theater was his thing. I’m aware that in theater, I’m passing along a tradition that is thousands of years old, and I have such deep respect for mentors that gave me opportunities like this. It’s a joy to give opportunities to kids, too.”

The past few years, MHS has graduated students, like Jeff Paskach, Spencer Buss and Eric Deutz, who had very strong theater backgrounds, Smith said. With their absence, however, other students have the opportunity to share their talents.

“It’s tough to see some of those leaders go because they raised the bar,” Smith said. “But it opens up opportunities for new kids, and this cast has done incredible. We have great leadership. And there are a lot of students in this cast for whom this is their first show in a long time or their first show, period.”

Smith said he’s continued to encourage students to perform at a high level.

“It’s not like in sport where you have an off year,” he said. “We continue to do shows. I have kept very high standards and high expectations on this cast, and they’ve risen to them. It’s going to be an entertaining show.”

The cast and crew of “Honk!” will give two matinee performances for area elementary kids this week, followed by four public ones.

“It’s such an important and beneficial form of fine art that I think it’s such a wonderful thing for kids to experience on so many levels,” Dan Smith said. “To see live performance in a space like this is absolutely a valuable and essential experience for elementary kids. So we’re doing a matinee for Marshall elementary kids and also a matinee for schools from the region.”

Smith noted that the show is for young audiences and adults alike.

“It’s an important story that endures, and it is told in a really, really fun fashion that kids enjoy and adults laugh at as well,” Smith said. “Visually, it’s a really fun and stunning show. There’s so much color and excitement on stage. There’s great music. It’s all rooted in a great story. It has a lot of great things to say, as good theater should do. It gives you some great things to think about and talk about afterwards, whether you are an adult or a child.”