GROTON -- Auditioning for a play can be fun and exciting, but learning you'll play a character named "Ugly" would make most kids cringe. Not Callum McLaughlin, an eighth-grader starring in the Jan. 18/19 middle school musical "Honk, Jr."

"It didn't faze him to play that part, but I thought it was brave," remarked his mother, Tracy McLaughlin. "He just enjoys playing a character and getting into different roles. In fact, with Callum, the more unique, the better."

"Honk, Jr." is the contemporary version of "The Ugly Duckling," the beloved Hans Christian Andersen story. Winner of the Olivier Award for Best Musical of 2000, the play is a fun-filled adventure that deals with the very timely themes of bullying, diversity and acceptance. "The message is universal. Being different isn't bad, and it's often a good thing," states Callum.

At 13, Callum is already building a substantial resume of acting credits, appearing in middle school and community musicals that include "The Wizard of Oz," "Pinocchio," and "Annie." He attended the Westford Academy summer theater program, acting in "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Godspell." Though not always cast in leading roles, his performances, such as the clock in "Beauty and the Beast" and the guard at the gate to Oz, are often the crowd-pleasers.

In "Honk, Jr.," however, Callum finally got the lead role. "It's really fun. I attend pretty much all of the rehearsals and get to know the inner workings of the show.


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" Between rehearsals or plays, Callum finds time to ski, read, watch movies and hang out with friends.

When asked if the acting bug bit Callum as a young child, his mother replied, "He has always done impersonations of famous people and family members. You wouldn't think he was listening and then he'd come out with these impersonations." She added that he often memorizes movie lines, too.

The public is invited to "Honk, Jr." on Jan. 18 (7 p.m.) and 19 (2 p.m. and 7 p.m.) at the Groton Dunstable Performing Arts Center at 344 Main St. Tickets, sold at the door, are $7 for students, children, and seniors and $10 for adults. The play is by The Groton-Dunstable Community Education Program in conjunction with Groton-Dunstable Middle School.