Nearly everyone has felt, at least once in a while, like an odd duck. And though it's said that it is our differences that make us special, they can also bring on feelings of loneliness and, even worse, fuel intolerance and bullying by others.
Because of this, Lori Erickson, theater teacher at Nature Coast Technical High School, has long wanted to put together a production of the musical comedy Honk!, a contemporary retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's classic The Ugly Duckling.
This year, she felt the time was right.
"Its message is one of tolerance and accepting diversity," said Erickson, the show's director. "It has an anti-bullying message. And it's timely."
However, the main reason Erickson wanted to put on the show is because she was surprised at how few people have heard about it.
"It is marvelous, delightful, heartwarming and funny on many levels," Erickson said. "Adults will love it for reasons different than why the kids love it. . . . It's smart and clever."
The Shark Theatre production, which kicked off Thursday, will continue with performances today and Saturday at the Black Box Theatre on Nature Coast's campus.
The family musical features music by George Stiles, with book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe. It is the story of Ugly, who is much different from his "normal" duckling siblings. Ugly is shunned by everyone, except for his mother, Ida, who appreciates him for who he is. Nature Coast juniors Jacob Rice and Julia Rifino star as Ugly and Ida, respectively.
Local theater patrons will recognize both performers, as each have won Stage West awards as rising stars, and most recently performed together in Nature Coast's production of Kindertransport and Stage West's summer production of Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr.
Rice, 17, said the role of Ugly has given him a new perspective on how he views others.
"I sing a solo called Different," he said. "And this is a role that really made me look at things in a different way. . . . I like how quirky and truly good Ugly is. There is no badness in him. He has a good heart."
One of Rice's favorite scenes is when he sings You Can Play With Your Food, a duet with a villainous tap-dancing cat who wants to eat Ugly.
Rifino, also 17, faces a new challenge with the motherly role of Ida.
"It's definitely a different type of role for me," Rifino said. "This past fall I was a 9-year-old Jewish child in Kindertransport. Now I'm a mother. It's very, very different and I must look at things from a totally different perspective."
Rifino's favorite scene is when she is teaching Ugly to swim, and they sing a duet, Hold Your Head Up High.
"They share their love for each other," Rifino said. "It's a cute scene of mother-son bonding that's quirky and clever."
Along with a cast of 16 students from Nature Coast, elementary students from Chocachatti Elementary and Challenger K-8 will perform as ducklings and froglets. Central High School teacher David George makes an appearance as a bullfrog who tries to help Ugly find some self-esteem. And Nature Coast teachers Rosemary Poluchowicz and Dominic Orlando have cameos as Mother and Father Swan.
"It's a huge collaboration for us," Erickson said. "And the little guys keep big ones on their toes."
Though the show's characters are not dressed as animals, bright, colorful costumes help distinguish the various animals on the farm. Special effects, including a scene when it snows on stage, help bring a bit of magic to the show.
"It's a beautiful set," Erickson said. "And the show has been really, really fun to put together."