Frances Kakugawa, a life-long poet, author, teacher, caregiver and Alzheimer’s advocate, never imagined that her words and books would be resources for a musical play.

Thus, like a dream come true, “Wordsworth: The Musical” will receive its world premiere Nov. 4 at the University of Hawaii-Hilo campus theater. It’ll be a short three-day run.

“I was on cloud nine,” said Kakugawa, a Kapoho native who previously taught and authored poetry books in Honolulu. She now resides in Sacramento, and has been commuting to and from Hilo (with emails flying back and fourth) to collaborate and consult with the script writer, a director, a musical composer and a choreographer, to  shape the show, based on two of Kakugawa’s books, “Wordsworth the Poet”  and “Wordsworth Dances the Waltz.”

Frances Kakugawa

Wordsworth is a wise, fictional mouse whose wisdom, words and warmth have been reimagined from the printed page into a musical that resonates with island folks and life. He resides in a rainforest and shares a sunny disposition when things get tough.

Perceived and pampered since 2020, the book and the intent to transform it into a stage musical, survived the pandemic clouds and the sunshiny launch of “Wordsworth: The Musical” finally happens this fall.

“They (the production team) had involved me every step of the way; I felt so honored to be given such respect for Wordsworth,” said Kakugawa, speaking via phone from Sacramento.

So real is her zeal for the production, that her portfolio of the give-and-take script is aptly filed away under the title, “Off Broadway.” The Tonys may a far-off dream, but the tension of opening night is real in sleepy Hilo, a continent away from the Great White Way.

Wordsworth, the poet mouse.

In actuality, there already exists a digital performance of “Wordsworth,” translated in Hawaiian with a Hawaiian-speaking cast. This version targeted a Hawaiian-speaking community, and provided a template for the staged musical version, which is youth- and family-friendly, with many fetching Hawaiian surprises.

“When I saw the filmed version in Hawaiian, I wept and thought, ‘If I died tonight, I would have died happily,’” Kakugawa said.

“Wordsworth is a humble little poet, so he keeps me under wraps,” she continued. “He’s simply delighted that his poetry is being set to music and dance. He’s also pleased that they didn’t change his aloha shirt.”

The notion of birthing a musical is credited to Lizby, a health care worker in Hilo, who had earlier invited Kakugawa to speak on “Poetry and Caregiving.”

Liszby is Dr. Elizabeth Logsdon, known in the movie and stage costume realm, who had the instinct that the Wordsworth had characters and situations made for a musical, rich with relatable folks ranging from a youngster struggling to fit in with his peers to an aging and fragile tutu wahine. Plus plenty butterflies.

Justina Mattos, who is directing, said the play has 15 speaking roles, plus a small chorus of extra “neighbors.” Dancers are from an advanced campus class, serving as the dance ensemble.

Justina Mattos

Wordsworth is portrayed by Kamau Beaudet , who is a football player when he’s not acting. The cast also features
Ben Publico as Father and Amy Erece as Mother.
Jackie Pualani Johnson, who adapted the Kakugawa book for the book of the play, is cast as Tutu Wahine.

Big Island school groups will be taking in special matinee performances, prior to the formal debut, but these youth tickets sold out quickly.

“I’ve been told that teachers are reading the Wordsworth books with their classes, to prepare for their visit to the theater,” said Mattos.“I think having a musical that is rooted in a book makes it much easier to draw an audience. Young readers are already familiar with these characters and the world of Wordsworth.

“Mounting an original work for the stage is tricky because the team is creating everything from scratch. I think our creative team appreciated having the opportunity to try things out for video first, before doing a fully-staged production for live audiences,” said Mattos.

Jackie Pua Johnson, who scripted the play, wanted to capture Kakugawa’s spirit of the printed poetry, transferring that element to the script. “I wanted to keep the integrity of the sources– the nuances found in life in the rainforest, the interaction of the mouse community, familial connections, the rich poetry -— all the elements that Frances shaped that make Wordsworth so appealing,” said Johnson.

Jackie Pua Johnson

“It became obvious that I needed a style that paid homage to the books in their original form,” she said. “Ah! Rather than take the story line and do the usual job of creating a narrator and assigning lines to each character, I decided on a ‘reader’s theatre’ approach.  That meant that I would preserve every word Frances wrote and build Wordsworth’s world  in real time, right before the audience.”

The biggest challenge?  “Integrating the two books so neither storyline suffered from the melding,” said Johnson. “Since I left Francesʻ original text intact, it was the structure and juxtaposition of characters that I focused upon. I placed Grandma in Wordsworthʻs life from the very beginning, showing her joie de vivre, dancing with her moʻopuna at every turn and never wavering in her enthusiasm about how he processed the beauty of the world around him. It also seemed right for Grandma to speak her native language, so she peppers Hawaiian throughout, as real tutu wahine do in our lives. I worked hard to give a sense of place, too, because the rainforest is both sacred and magical for the characters, a place where nature appears in all her glory and love and friendship heal and rejuvenate.  Again, just like wao kele in real life.”

Choreographer Kea Kapahua staged the dancing in the digital version as well as the stage musical, acknowledging each medium is different from the other.

Kea Kapahua

“Choreographing for a musical is much different than choreographing for a dance concert,” she said. “It’s a different kind of a collaborative process. In a dance concert the dances are the main focus. In a show like ‘Wordsworth,’ dance plays an important and delightful but supportive role in bringing out the storyline. The dance is not the end-all, but a way to help the audience connect with the narrative.

She continued, “When choreographing for film you are always viewing everything as if through the eye of the camera lens and thinking of angles and what you might want to highlight or frame for the viewer.” On stage, the choreography needs to blend with Wordsworth’s imagination and creativity to life, “to make visible what he sees for the audience,” she said.

For composer Wendell Ing, the task was to create songs from poems. “From having been music director for many theater productions through the years, I had definite ideas about how I wanted to approach composing this music,” he said.   “I wanted to stay true to her (Kakugawa’s) text and the underlying feelings.  To compose music to fit the poems, not vice-versa.  There is more repetition of phrases and a different narrative flow to most songs.  Poems are often more elliptical. I wanted to preserve the natural beauty and flow of her poems.”

Wendell Ing

The lyrics, he said, shouldn’t be his but should reflect the characters.

“Since this was a children’s musical, that constrained some of the musical choices and styles,” said Ing.  “I wanted to create music that was melodic and pretty, but not overly complicated.”  

The score features six main tunes and more than a dozen underscores suiting different scenes. Being an islander, Ing wanted to enrich the show with island traditions tapping keyboards, ukulele, bass and flute.

And he created varying moods. “My particular favorites are ‘Of Sand Sea,’ a personal ballad sung by Wordsworth; ‘Circus Time in the Sky,’ sung by Kolohe Brother, which is the most bombastic and visceral; and ‘Rainbow,’ a group song that is the happiest.”

He added: “Yes, I read both Wordsworth books before I composed the music, to get a feeling for her poetic style,which is fairly direct and imagistic.”

And that’s Show Biz. …


Playdates: 7 p.m. Nov. 4, 7 p.m. Nov. 5 and 2 p.m. Nov. 6.

Where: Performing Arts Theatre, University of Hawaii-Hilo.

Tickets: $20 general, $15 seniors 55 and older, faculty, staff and alumni; $7 UH Hilo and Hawaii Community College  students and students 17 and under.

Where to buy: https://hilo.hawaii.edu/depts/theatre/tickets/


“E Kani Mau (To Resound Forever),” the Royal Hawaiian Band’s exquisite freebie one-nighter last night (Oct. 14) at the Hawaii Theatre, was a major, significant event on the entertainment calendar.

With bandmaster Clarke Bright at the helm, the concert was everything you might have expected —  and more:

  • It marked the first time the municipal band was able to perform, en masse, since the pandemic shut down operations.
  • It was chicken-skin feel-good, to hear Hawaiian songs, in a parade of stars that included Danny Kaleikini, Karen Keawehawai‘i Nathen Aweau, Augie Tulba, Keauhou, Kala‘i Stern, and Amy Hanaiali‘i …. and the evening’s favorite act, the Kamehameha Schools Children’s Chorus.
  • It was all about ‘ohana, as singer Keawehawai‘i  earlier shared with maestro Bright, since her family of dancers (including Pi‘ikea Lopes), singers and chanters (Traci and Keawe Lopes) were part of the show, and his wife, Linell Bright, was the night’s heroine who has shaped and nurtured the young Kamehameha of chorus members, the lone troupe to earn an impromptu standing ovation. Bright also said his ‘ohana, including mother Mo, was in the audience (plus brother, sister-in-law, grandkids) with his late dad Ron Bright watching and spiritually applauding from Up There.
Keauhou, from left: Zackary Lum, Kahanuola Solatorio and Nicholas Lum.

Emcee Kimo Kahoano stuck to his script, introducing each act, with the performers’ names, the dancers’ identities, and composers and arrangers all properly credited in projections. Those credits thus identified a corps of historical greats not physically part of the show, but present and accounted for via their contributions. The names included Jack de Mello, John Almeida, Queen Liliuokulani, John Keawehawai‘i, Jennie Napua Hanaiali‘i Woodd, Harry Owens and Willie Kahaiali’i.

The theme of the event, “E Kani Mau,” also was a musical premiere, with composer Michael-Thomas Fourmai in the house to hear his creation, and the audience able to see him and applaud him. How cool was that?

Bandmaster Clarke Bright, center, and Amy Hanaiali’i, right.

There was a lot to swoon over:

  • Hanaiali‘i’s signatures, “Palehua” and “Hale‘iwa,” never before staged and supported by the grand band, with roots from the Hawaiian monarchy. And boy, she was at her career best, following a European fashion tour and trek to trace Hawaiian monarchy leaders who made pilgrimages to Britain. Her finale, “Queen’s Anthem,’ was also astounding, with the Kamehameha chorus joining her in the premiere of a video in front of Iolani Palace, with the video sound muted so that the band and the chorus, featured in the clip could give the tune a historical multi-media debut.
Karen Keawehawai’i.
Nathan Aweau.
  • Keauhou, the trio comprising Zachary and Nicolas Lum and fellow Kamehameha Warrior of music Kahanuola Solatorio exhibiting delicate, swooning voices, including falsetto via melodies including “Na Ali‘i” and “Dancing Under the Stars.”
  • Nathan Aweau, not often visible in recent years, continues to display depth and breadth in his vocals; his “Ho‘olana” and “I Ka La‘i ‘O Kahakuloa” connected with the audience.
  • Danny Kaleikini, also not commonly on stage, remains an active ambassador of aloha, though his “Mapuana” had a brief moment of uncertainty. Always great, however, to see him performing again.
Amy Hanaiali’i with Kamehameha Schools Choir.

Tickets were free to those who requested them, online at the Hawaii Theatre site, and the show was virtually a sell-out, with some no-shows.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi, a booster of this gig, was away on mayoral business, but his wife, Karen Chang Blangiardi, supported the concert as founder of The Creative City.

Fittingly, there was a crowd singing, with hand-holding wherever possible, of the traditional “Hawaii Aloha.” It had a resounding flavor and tone, attuned to the show’s theme. …

And that’s Show Biz. …


It’s not yet Halloween, but it’s getting to sound like Christmas. Yep, some acts have announced its December concerts, which will include holiday music as well as Hawaiian.

Here’s the early outlook:

First up: “Ho’okena for the Holidays” is the theme of a two-show visit Dec. 11 at 4:30 and 8 p.m. at Blue Note Hawaii at the Outrigger Waikiki resort. Yes, there will be some holiday tunes, but expect Hawaiiana, too.

First up: “Ho’okena for the Holidays” is the theme of a two-show visit Dec. 11 at 4:30 and 8 p.m. at Blue Note Hawaii at the Outrigger Waikiki resort. Yes, there will be some holiday tunes, but expect Hawaiiana, too.

Technically, Ho’okena and Makena, will be featured acts. The first is the usual trio featuring Horace Dudoit III, Chris Kamaka, and Glen H.K. Smith.  The second is a combination of Ho’okena with the Makaha Sons members Louis “Moon” Kauakahi and Eric Lee, thus the moniker Makena, a union of Ma-kaha and Ho’o-kena.

Horace Dudoit III

Nani Dudoit, new kumu hula (and wife of Horace) will hula. And special guests will be the duo of Kala’e Paris and Kalenaku DeLima.

Earlier reports of this show had different curtain times, so note the changes.

Tickets: (808) 888-4890 at www.bluenotehawaii.com

Next up: Na Leo Pilimehana will stage a dinner concert Dec. 17, at the Kalakaua Ballroom of the Hawaii Convention Center.

Na Leo is comprised of Nalani Jenkins, Lehua Kalima and Angela Morales-Escontria, high school classmates who turned the friendship into a lasting performance and recording career.

Na Leo;s Morales-Escontria, Kalama and Jenkins.

Doors open at 5 p.m., with guest performer Maunalua aboard. A buffet dinner will precede the 7 p.m. concert that will include Na Leo’s holiday and Hawaiian tunes.

Tickets: $185, includes the buffet dinner plus a Na Leo CD. Keiki up to 2 years are free, but those bringing strollers that take a seat place must buy a ticket.

Tickets are available at www.hawaiiconvention.com

Kalani Pe’a

Finally: Kalani Pe’a will headline a Hawaiian Christmas show, at 7 p.m. Dec. 22 at the Hawaii Theatre.

Pe‘a is a three-time Grammy winner, whose repertoire includes Hawaiian Christmas songs and he’ll embrace holiday tunes, too.

Tickets: $45 to $100, available at www.hawaiitheatre.com

Rady or not, ‘Magnum’ is filming

There’s still no word when “Magnum P.I.” will surface under the NBC banner, after CBS nixed a season five. However, filming’s under way here.

Michael Rady

And there’s good news:  Michael Rady, a familiar face from “Chicago: Med” and “Timeless,” has been tapped for a recurring role.

He’ll play Det. Chris Childs of the Honolulu Police Department, and he’ll debut in the fifth season’s premiere, airdate not yet announced.

So Rady joins series regulars Jay Hernandez, Perdita Weeks, Zachary Knighton, Stephen Hill, Tim Kang, and Amy Hill, in the new chapter. And “Magnum” has a planned two-season run …

Broadway grosses, for week ending Oct. 9

Broadway continues to rack up decent grosses, despite the waning pandemic.

The top five in terms of gross: No. 1, “The Music Man,” $3.099 million; No.2, “Hamilton,” $2.158 million; No. 3, “The Lion King,” $2.066 million; No. 4, “Wicked,” $1.839 million; and No. 5, “MJ the Michael Jackson Musical,” $1.765 million.

The list of grosses, courtesy The Broadway League:

And that’s Show Biz. …


Just asking…

Whenever you shop, do you prefer self-check to whisk out of the store, or are you a traditionalist and favor the customary sales clerk handling your purchase?

Many stores are embracing and enlarging self-check; many folks prefer this method quickly exit the store.

What’s your choice? Traditional cashier check-out, or self-check?

The elderly — me included — prefer waiting in the shortest line for the usual clerk check-out. In many instances, you get know one or two of ‘em at the cash register – regularity and constancy make you engage in fun small talk with your cashier, swapping views of the humid weather, the election, or approaching holidays.

A shopper at self-check means one less hire.

But on the mainland, key brands stores have eliminated cashiers for wholly self-check. My worry: each vacant check-out stand means someone no longer is on the payroll. And is honesty the prevailing notion among self-checkers? Will this do-it-yourself method encourage “shoplifting” with a possible alibi that the scanner didn’t scan? And does the store have a means to flag the unscanned item?

You’ve seen the expansion of self-check, at Costco, Longs, Target, Walmart, Safeway and more. It’s the future. And the future is now. Aides are visible for queries, but essentially, you take stuff out of your shopping cart and scan purchases as the cashier. Have you seen that overfilled cart at Costco? Does a self-scanner have the smarts to include each item – and will there be delays at the exit door, when checkers suspect a non-scanned item?

So if you willingly do the work to scan your goods, do you expect a small a discount off your bill? Is this what retail has come to?

I know one person who no longer goes to a merchant without a live cashier. Can’t blame her; she has to do the work, with no perk.

What’s your take on self-check or cashier? Share your views.


Just asking…

It’s never a perfect world, but when the Blaisdell Concert Hall is renovated – timetable not yet confirmed – shouldn’t it include either an escalator and/or elevator, so the disabled or wobbly seniors can secure balcony seats without having to struggle up and down stairs?

These amenities should have been in the original plans of the Neal Blaisdell Center.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful if an on-site restaurant be in the mix of participating vendors?

Clearly, the Concert Hall should retain  the dual lobby and up-front lavatory facilities, for convenience.

An improved sound system for the house would enhance performances, too

Anything to add to the wish list for the concert hall?