Young talent shines at Near West Theater’s recent youth performance
by Maggie Antone

(Plain Press, July 2005) Over the weekend of June 17th, the Near West Theater put on a production of Honk! Jr., a musical written by Anthony Drewe with music by George Stiles.  The story is a re-telling of the famous Hans Christian Anderson tale, The Ugly Duckling.  A youth production, the cast was comprised of 31 children, ranging in age from nine to 13 years old, from 17 area schools.  Fifty percent of the children had no previous theater experience, though one wouldn’t be able to tell.


Prior to the beginning of the production, the show’s director, first-timer Paula J. Kampf, spoke to the audience.  She and stage managers Sarah Hess and Roger Lowe relayed that the children not only wanted to put on an entertaining show, but also sought to send a positive message.  Kampf iterated that, even though this story has been around for ages, its lesson is most typically overlooked. Discrimination remains an issue, especially for youngsters. Through this production, the children stress that it is okay to be different and that it can even be a great thing to stand out!

The set for the production gave the audience a feeling of being outdoors.  Painted in hues of green, brown, and blue, the stage was adorned with such props as grass and oversized cattails. The backdrop was a screen onto which were projected actual pictures of landscapes and skies, to give the audience a good feel for the setting and the time of day of each scene. Set designer Michael Larochelle did a great job setting the scene for this story.

A team of Kate League, stage manager Sarah Hess, and director Paula J. Kampf brought out the characters with fantastic costume design.  The fun and colorful costumes alerted the audience to which species each character belonged. The ducks and ducklings were decked out in bright, funky outfits with multicolored feathers around necklines and hems. The swans wore black, white and silver outfits with similarly colored feather accents, while the frogs wore green, and the Cat wore feline-printed clothing.

What really made the show stand out were the children and their amazing performances.  The actors’ natural ability for comic timing shone through in the bantering between the characters Ida and Drake, portrayed by Taylor Slivka and Jason Dugger.  Comedy isn’t necessarily easy, but the pair made it look like no problem at all.  Another aspect that seemed to come naturally to the young performers was the musical numbers. The maturity of their voices was obvious, especially in Slivka’s performances of “The Joy of Motherhood” and “Every Tear a Mother Cries.”  Other amazing voices came through in Sarah Chapman’s (the Cat) performance of “Play with Your Food,” and Coletta Gruss’ (Bullfrog) performance of “Warts and All” along with Ben Schumann as Ugly and the Froglet Chorus.

Not only were the actors talented musically, they also had no problem taking the audience on a rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs.  Leads Slivka and Schumann, as the mother-son duo of Ida and Ugly, brought the audience with them on their characters’ journey of love, sadness, and joy. Schumann had the audience laughing with his comical “Honk!” and had them crying when lost in the wilderness searching for his only acceptance: his mother.  It was obvious to the audience how much fun these youngsters had putting on this production, expending their endless amount of energy into such a worthwhile activity.  The performers of the Near West Theater truly looked like they were having a blast up on stage, utilizing their natural talents in the best way possible. 

The next youth production of the Near West Theater will be the musical Oklahoma!, performed July 22-23, 28-30, and August 5-7.


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