The Peer Players include (front row, left to right): Tiffany Lewcyk, Stephen Bucco, Forrest Burdett, Katie Kroeper; (middle row) Joseph Kim, Samantha Aurelio, Sara Howard, Christina Lennon, Allison Cloonan, Leah Sugerman, Elizabeth Coulter; (back row) Melissa Cloonan, Danny Cassidy.
By TOM CHESEK
Call it Children’s Theater of the Corn. Lord of the Flats, if you will. A weird world where the kids have taken over and are doing just famously, thank you very much, without the possibly quite overrated input and intervention of whatever passes for adults these days.
Those who tend not to trust anyone under 21 to see to the details should know that these people are putting on a show not only minus the dictatorial whims of a “grown-up” director, but without a director of any kind.
Veteran directors can sneer into their megaphones or snap their riding-crops in frustration, but when the Middletown Peer Players open their production of Honk! at the Middletown Arts Center this weekend, they’ll be placing their work before the public with the knowledge that it will stand or fall entirely upon their efforts and energies. The troupe made up of eighteen current or former students of Middletown High School South, and ranging in age from 15 to 20 not only selected the show for production, they auditioned cast members, arranged the rehearsal schedule, and created the costumes and sets. Taking it a couple of steps further, they also hired their own musical director (Svetlana Nosov) and wrote their own application for a grant from the Middletown Township Cultural and Arts Council.
A family-friendly musical comedy adapted from the familiar tale of The Ugly Duckling by UK composers George Stiles and Anthony Drew, the 1993 Honk! brings a dash of British wit to Hans Christian Andersen’s perennial about an odd-looking baby duck in search of his mother. It’s the second such production for the year-old Peer Players collective (after 2007’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown), and it inaugurates a run of four evening performances and two matinees beginning Friday at 8p.
For all those who might still think it a how-I-spent-my-summer-vacation trifle, this duck can most assuredly quack. Participants among the Peer group include some serious students of the performing arts and, according to Middletown Arts Center’s Executive Director Maggie O’Brien, “these young people are proving our thesis that ‘arts change lives.’ The Peer Players are not only improving their quality of life by exploring and learning from this challenging arts project, but they are also going to change the lives of all those audience members who experience this exuberant musical.”
For his part, Rutgers University student and cast member Danny Cassidy confesses that, “sometimes it would be easier if we had a director. We’ve had some heated arguments about direction, but in the end, we’ve found this approach gives us the best creative input and the best output for the show.”
“You know, we’re all ‘drama kids’ and so sensitive and all that,” laughs 20-year-old Rutgers psychology and dance major Leah Sugerman. “However, we really like each other, so we figure out how to give notes diplomatically.”
Performances of Honk! take place in the Middletown Arts Center at 36 Church Street (just inches from the train station and a five-minute ride from station Red Bank) at 8p tonight, tomorrow, and on July 18 and 19; and at 3p on July 13 and 20 . Adult tickets are $10; student and senior tickets are $5, and can be reserved in advance by calling 732.706.4100.
Not pictured above: Kristen Costa, Mike Daneman, Patrick Diggins, Brittany Oxley, Stefanie Winters.