By Laurie Gordon
The heart-warming fable of Honk Jr. will be performed at the Newton Theatre by the Newton Theatre Arts Academy in March. The theatre is offering day performances, on March 26, for schools at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Cost of just $5 per student and for every 10 students tickets purchased, the school will get a free ticket to ease the fee for teachers and chaperones. Another performances will be open to the public at 7 pm that evening.
“We want schools to know about this option so that they can run it through their principals and board and take advantage of the opportunity for their students to see a live performance during the day,” said Sara Bartlett, the Education Director at the Newton Theatre.
Performers in the show are in grades 2-9.
Reese VanBenschoten is a 10-year old in fifth grade at Pope John Middle School. She plays the part of "Cat."
“I have been acting since fourth grade when I played Lucy in 'You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown' at Reverend Brown School,” she said. “The biggest challenge in playing the Cat is probably trying to stay in character and memorizing all the lines.”
Honk Jr is a rendition of Hans Christian Anderson's "Ugly Duckling." As the story goes, an egg falls from a duck's nest into that of a swan. Honk is born and grapples with being different than his duck compatriots. He goes on journeys and meets people along the way that help him discover his true identity and, in the end, make an important decision.
“The message of the musical is that of tolerance,” Bartlett said. “It teaches that it's OK to be different and that we should accept the idea that we are all different. I pushed to do this musical over more familiar ones to show people the great works that are out there. It's fun to do the well-known musicals like Beauty and the Beast, but every now and then I think it's good to present something many people haven't seen. Everyone from kids to parents to teachers to grandparents will take something great away from this show.”
Aiden Armiger is playing the part of Honk. The 9-year-old attends Reverend Brown School.
“I have been acting for just over four years,” he said. “I started at the Papermill Playhouse and then performed at Acting a Part as James Gordon Bennett in The Greatest Showman. Now I’m really excited to be here working on my second show at The Newton Theatre.”
The young actor doesn't get the butterflies when he's on stage, rather, he feels exhilarated.
“The stage may be big, the stage may be small, but when you’re an actor you have to give it your all,” Armiger said. “I get this feeling inside, when I’m on stage where it just just bubbles up in my heart. Expressing to the audience that it is OK to be different I think is going to be the biggest challenge for myself. We all look different on the outside but inside we are all the same. You stand out when you’re different in a good way. Showing the audience that bullying is definitely not OK is a big part of the show too.”
VanBenschoten and Armiger agrees about the musical's message.
“Kindness should always be our first response,” Armiger said. "...Instead of being afraid of your differences, it’s OK to feel unique. That’s what makes each of us special.”
In 2000, Bartlett founded the Musical Mission Tour in South Bend, Indiana. She wanted to use her talents to help people and knew that, somehow, it would be through music and acting. Musical Mission Tour was born, combining her passion for theatre with that of serving others, and countless youth have part-taken to date. Bartlett recently ventured back to Indy to celebrate the Tour's 20th anniversary.
“I think that the Newton Theatre is really awesome,” VanBenschoten said. “The directors are all very kind and encouraging but they push you to be the best you can be.”
To reserve tickets for your school for one of the school day performances on March 26, contact Bartlett at 973-383-3700, Ext. 5 or e-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For general public tickets for the 7 p.m. show, visit: https://www.showclix.com/event/honk-jr-0860 or call the Newton Theatre.