MAGNOLIA — A small, but enthusiastic crowd attended the last of four performances on March 15 of The Midnight Dreary Players of Saint Thomas More Academy.
“Honk” is a musical adaptation of “The Ugly Duckling” and it brought its message of acceptance and compassion to audiences as students throughout the diocese and world face an uncertain future.
Nowhere is that more apparent than at St. Thomas More Academy, a small high school near Dover and the only Delaware Catholic high school south of New Castle County. Enrollment has fallen below 50 and the diocese and pastor of Holy Cross parish in Dover announced last month that the school will close at the end of the school year.
“Deeply saddened though I am, and though I know our 800-plus current and former students and families certainly are, I strive to remember that our faith will see us through this challenge,” said Principal Rachael Casey in a message on the St. Thomas More website. “I am consoled by the fact that my soon-to-be graduates in the Class of 2020 are going to thrive in the larger world beyond our walls … I am consoled by the fact that the 34 students currently enrolled in grades 9-11 at STMA have the character to face challenges with Christian confidence. I have watched them mature academically, socially, and spiritually during their time at STMA, and if any group can face a transition such as this, it is this group. I know they will find success.”
“Honk” may be the last show and Sunday’s performance was an emotional one for the cast and crew. It was a joyful performance, marked by enthusiastic singing and joyful acting. The set was clever and costuming was imaginative. Performers “left it all on the stage” and then struck (took down) the set before holding a final cast party. Like other diocesan schools, the doors closed the next morning, March 16, for two weeks because of the threat of coronavirus.
Audience members were greeted with a sign on the door announcing the closure. Twenty feet away, parents sold popcorn, sodas and tiny rose bushes to give as gifts for cast members. That school closure is to last at least through March 27.
With news changing almost by the minute, the school year remains clouded in uncertainty, students said. Freshman Erin Feaster, who played Ugly, said “it’s sad, but it’s also really fun … This is my first and last show. It is more meaningful with all these great people.”
Senior Jessica Churchman has been involved in every show since she was a freshman. She served as assistant director and stage manager.
“It’s very bittersweet in a way,” she said. “It’s a good show to end on with a very positive theme … We’ve always been a little different.”
Director and Conductor Kevin Thomas said he was proud of his students for dealing so well with difficult circumstances.
“It’s a great group of kids,” he said.
“It’s sad … We really are trying not to think about it,” he said, as he looked away and busied himself putting away electric cords and band instruments. “If we keep dwelling on it, we knew that it would affect our performance.”
Senior Rachel Merson, who played Ida, (Ugly’s mother) said that being the last show makes it both special and difficult.
“It makes it really special,” she said. “We’re all a family and we were all so involved.”
The show chronicles the arrival of Ugly with his four brothers and sisters in the farmyard.
From his very first “Honk,” it’s clear he is different and unwelcome to all except his other Ida. When he wanders off, he has a series of adventures where he meets a singing bullfrog, is nearly eaten numerous times by the always-ravenous Cat, encounters a domestic chicken and cat, is snared in a net by hunters and meets his first swan, named Penny. He frees Penny from a net and eventually falls for her gentle beauty after she returns the next spring from migration. There’s even a squadron of geese, dressed in flying garb and spouting full military lingo, who conduct an aerial reconnaissance mission to help him find his mother. Ultimately, he transforms into a beautiful swan in the middle of a blizzard. The cat leaves hungry. He finds his mother. Penny stays by his side.
“Different isn’t naughty … Different isn’t bad … Different isn’t scary … Different is no threat … Different is just, well, different,” wrote Thomas, quoting a song from the show.
The Midnight Dreary Players are scheduled to hold student produced one-act plays May 1-3. There is no word on whether, in show business terminology, the show will go on. But for this weekend, the show did indeed go on.