In a society where bullying and intolerance are still prevalent, Serenbe Playhouse’s production of The Ugly Duckling serves as a reminder of the importance of acceptance and open-mindedness. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, the production not only updates the familiar tale, but it also transforms the theatre-going experience.
Placing the production on an actual lake in the Serenbe Community of Chattahoochee Hills, director Brian Clowdus utilizes the gorgeous landscape to capture this classic tale. In fact, the only component of the set that is not part of the natural landscape is an underwater stage. The stage, built several inches below the surface, created the appearance that the actors were gliding on the water. Although there is no actual swimming in the show, the effect of the actors gliding and dancing on the water is quite impressive.
The cast, with whimsical costumes by Brandon R. Williams, is led by Andrew Crigler who plays Ted, the “ugly” duckling. Crigler’s performance is commendable as he immediately gains adoration from the audience and masterfully handles the task of not only acting and dancing in the water but running full speed around the lake at several points during the show.
Jessica Miesel as Chicken and Ben Isabel as Cat provide a hilarious take on two superficial socialite-type characters. Their interaction with Ted (who they rename “Bookcase”) as he tries to win their approval is a highlight of the show. Additionally, Will Shuler makes a strong impression as Captain Hooks, the leader of a flock of geese, while Dasie Thames’s soothing voice is a perfect fit for the narration of the story.
At the end of the production, the swans (elegantly played by Emma Jackson and Rose Shields) inform Ted that, “Everyone is a little ugly sometimes, but everyone is a little beautiful always.” Their dance sequences, choreographed by Joanna Brooks, give the audience a glimpse of what it might be like to experience Swan Lake performed on an actual lake.
Traditionally a children’s story, The Ugly Duckling has something to offer all ages. Throughout the show, the characters walk through the audience and interact with viewers, ensuring that the little ones remain engaged. Those slightly older (but still young at heart) will enjoy playwright Rachel Teagle’s witty banter and sharp cultural references. Audiences do not have to worry about missing any of these quips because the cast members have mastered suitable stage voices for the outdoor setting.
With the picturesque backdrop of Serenbe, the inspired staging and top-notch performances, The Ugly Duckling is a delightful way to spend a summer afternoon.
- A. Wesley