Student Story: Clayton High’s Production Of “Honk!” Takes A Duckling And Soars Like An Eagle

By: Sophia Kopreski, Arthur P. Schalick High School

Clayton High School building. Photo credit: Clayton Public School District website.

CLAYTON, N.J. — Clayton High School’s production of Honk! was simply spectacular. The musical, which first opened in 1993 at The Watermill Theatre in Newbury, England, is an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Ugly Duckling.” After transferring to the West End in 1999, Honk! won the 2000 Olivier Award for Best New Musical. The same year, “Honk!” made its U.S. debut at the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center (now known as the Riverspace Arts) in Nyack, New York, with soon-to-be Broadway star Gavin Creel as the lead role, Ugly.

While most people know the famous story of The Ugly Duckling, “Honk!” takes the tale to a whole new level. With book and lyrics by British songwriting duo Anthony Drewe and George Styles,  the story follows Ugly, who as the name suggests, is not the most attractive duck in the brood. He is ostracized by his barnyard friends and family, except his mother Ida who loves him for who he is. The story promotes a theme of tolerance, one that is still relevant in today’s society.

Clayton’s star-studded cast included Elijah Ortiz as Ugly, whose voice and character soared like an eagle beyond the sky in the most elegant and beautiful way possible. Equally impressive was Raquel Ponce (Ida) with her stunning vocal tone and motherly demeanor. With ballads such as “Every Tear a Mother Cries,” Ponce certainly made the audience tear up. These two young actors made the audience feel the connection between mother and son, proving to be a tear-jerker at the end of the show.

The supporting characters in this production were just as strong as the leads. The Cat, played brilliantly by Jordyn Rubinsky, was always a joy to watch and listen to. Her character choices perfectly embodied what the feisty feline was meant to be. Ugly’s father, Drake (William Pedrick), was hysterical in his knee-high socks as he executed perfect comedic timing. There truly was never a dull moment when these two graced the stage.

Although Clayton’s production of Honk! only utilized a twelve-person cast, this made large ensemble moments all the better. Songs such as “The Elegy”,  featured beautiful harmonies and professional choral techniques. Among this cast, there were a few stand-out smaller performances, two of which were by Lorenzo Valles (Greylag) and Joanna Karpiel (Dot). In their number “The Wild Goose Chase,” Valles and Karpiel played off each other’s energy, making for an exceedingly entertaining display. Waving a Wawa flag to resemble the iconic “One Day More” of Les Miserables, Clayton paid homage to New Jersey’s best convenience store. Other large ensemble numbers such as “Warts and All,” starring the wonderful James Connell as Bullfrog, also proved to be show-stoppers.

On the technical side, “Honk!” demonstrated immense poise and skill. The frog hats featured in “Warts and All” were all crocheted by hand by multi-talented cast member, Joanna Karpiel. The lighting design, by Gwendolyn Peters, added depth to the simpler moments in the show, making for a beautiful display. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that the cast of the production was involved in multiple set changes, which helped make smoother transitions. The audience could see just how much work and heart the cast and crew put into Honk!, and it paid off well.

This fabulous show may not have been the most recognizable at first, but it was surely an honor to see. Productions such as this are what inspires the next generation of “theatre kids” to get involved and sing their hearts out. All in all, Clayton’s “Honk!” was extremely well received and a joy to watch.

Follow South Jersey provides local journalism which highlights our diverse communities; fosters transparency through robust, localized, and vital reporting that holds leaders and institutions accountable; addresses critical information needs; supports people in navigating civic life; and equips people with the information necessary to partake in effective community engagement. If there is a story or event you think we should cover, please send your tips to with “NEWS” in the subject line.