Those who know him may beg to differ, but Brian Martin is Ugly with a capital U.
The popular morning show host on local radio station Sun FM doesn’t take offence when called that unflattering word. In fact, he’s been calling himself that to his 1,054 followers on Twitter, and to anyone else who will listen – and he has quite a big audience.
It’s not self-deprecation, but for the sake of the theatre, as Martin is about to appear as the Ugly Duckling in Valley Vocal Arts and Big Apple Production’s presentation of HONK! The Musical.
The musical is a funny and fun take on the classic Hans Christian Andersen story – and we all know what happens to Ugly eventually.
This is Martin’s first major role since last appearing as the Major-General in Valley Vocal Art’s presentation of The Pirates of Penzance two years ago.
“I haven’t sang (on stage) since then, and this time I am in character doing a voice and singing as a young child who is so innocent, lovable and gullible,” he said while on a rare break from rehearsal.
With the show taking up much of his free time, the father of two has had to juggle being in the radio studio at the crack of dawn and appearing at numerous community events throughout the week.
“It’s difficult to fit this in with my life and it can get panicky. There’s so much going on. But it’s coming together and we have a really great and supportive group,” he said.
At the helm of that group is local soprano and Valley Vocal Arts founder Melina Moore, whom Martin describes as the ultimate multitasker.
“It’s amazing the way she can carry a show. Not only does she produce and direct, she plays the piano throughout the production. It’s a lot of work and she does it seamlessly,” he said.
Moore has more in store.
She just started her own production company, Big Apple Productions, so named because of her New York roots. She plans to bring some of the biggest Broadway shows to town, including Les Mis, featuring Welsh tenor and Phantom star Peter Karrie with the Okanagan Symphony, next summer.
But first, her concentration is focused on HONK!
Written by British duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the musical made its debut at The Watermill Theatre in England in 1993, later making its way to London’s West End, where it won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 2000.
“It won over The Lion King and Mamma Mia,” said Moore, who chose to stage the play immediately after reading the script.
“I instantly knew it was a show that my company had to do…. It’s kid friendly, but there’s enough jokes to keep adults happy.”
Billed as the story of The Ugly Duckling you thought you knew, HONK! delves deeper into the Christian Andersen tale, following the young “duck” as he is shunned from the pond for his odd looks and discernible honk.
And that’s just the beginning of the swan song.
With dad Drake (Don Cecile) on side with the bullies, only Ugly’s mom Ida (Karen Bliss) believes in her son. It’s after being mocked that Ugly gets lost in a marsh where he encounters the hungry tom Cat (played by Paul Rossetti, who also designed the set) and an assortment of barnyard creatures.
In a true ensemble, they include Greylag, the pompous Goose and military pilot (played by Michael Gairns), his flight attendant wife Dot (Jenna Roze), the unflatteringly named domesticated hen Lowbutt (Sue Gairns), and her feline companion, Queenie (Susan Evans) who gets involved in a love triangle between Cat and Ugly.
Bullfrog (Craig Howard, also playing the school headmaster Turkey who is afraid of Thanksgiving) is the one who reminds Ugly that one day, “different will be in.” Then there’s Penny the swan (Courtney Harker) whom Ugly saves.
The fun musical numbers, along with the wink-wink humour, revolves around a deeper moral that should resonate with everyone, said Moore.
“Along his rollicking and harrowing journey, (Ugly) not only discovers his true beauty and glorious destiny, but also finds love and acceptance in all its forms,” she said. “What is interesting is that Ugly doesn’t believe he’s ugly until everyone else introduces the concept to him. Until then, he has no understanding of different. His burden is what he suffered at the hands of his community.”
For his part, Martin says being Ugly has taught him that “we’re all swans” and that it’s OK to be different from the flock.
“It’s not only about physical transformation, but about transforming as a character, even though it is done humorously,” he said.
HONK! The Musical opens at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre Wednesday, May 28 and runs nightly to Saturday, May 31. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee at 2 p.m. on May 31. Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller box office in the Performing Arts Centre, at 250-549-7469 or www.ticketseller.ca.