Ohana Arts, an organization of theater and musical mentors and their students, made the plunge into the Waikiki mainstream last night (July 12), at Blue Note Hawaii at the Outrigger Waikiki resort.

Clearly, there’s a lot of budding talent among the ranks, with about 25 taking the stage to strut their stuff, joined by a cluster of adults. A premium  list of  in-house entertainer-mentors, like Rocky Brown and Kristian Lei (who have enviable credits in legit Broadway musicals), sharing their talent to Mainland and global audiences and now grooming and inspiring homegrown troupers still earning their stripes.

Rocky Brown

I was curious, about how this group would assemble a cabaret show – a mixed bag of tunes, an uneven level of confidence among the youths – in a venue not generally known for showcasing  local talent seeking their first brush of legitimacy.

Simply, the evening was a work in progress. It was a challenge to fully appreciate a show that doesn’t have a format or a map, like a conventional Broadway musical. Ohana Arts, welcomes challenges and is in the midst of its busiest month  ever. FYI, besides the Blue Note show, it is staging its version of Broadway popular musicials, “Newsies” July 21 at 2 and 7:30 p.m., July 23 at 7:30 p.m., and July 24 at 3 p.m. at the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre at the University of Hawaii, alternately producing “Matilda” on July 22  at 7:30 p.m., July 23 at 3 p.m., and Sunday July 24 at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p. m., at Kennedy Theatre at UH. “Newsies” is nearly sold out. But that’s another story.

As deployed by Ohana Arts, the Blue Note one-nighter reeled off more like a high school talent show, than a cohesive club spectacle,  with one singer followed by another and another and another. The routine swiftly became, well, routine.

However, the core of the evening – the valid talent – was outstanding. Apologies, but I didn’t have road map  (meaning cast list) for this one, so I can’t properly name names of most of the troupers as the charming, enthusiastic emcee, dutifully rattling off a list… from her iPhone.
So it was problematic, for an ignorant spectator, to identify who’s who. The parade had its ups and downs, and the show would have had more impact if it shaped and produced the participants and selections with thematic tweaks. But ambition and pride shined, and since most of the crowd were Ohana Arts families and followers, there were enough cheers and sparks to aid and provide confidence and goodwill to the youngsters.

An evening like this begs for a rousing opening number involving multiple vocalists in a spirited hurrah,  to make us all sit on the edge of our seats  in anticipation. Imagine a youth capable of becoming The Emcee, as in “Cabaret,” and dish up a socko “Wilkommen” opening song. Would have been a howling howdy-do.

In this outing, Jeannine Wong’s (sorry if this isn’t the correct name) “Don’t Rain on My Parade” was a logical  opening song choice, but it was a one-woman parade (not her fault) that needed embellishment perhaps with a few dancers and singers just to perk it up and get noticed.

Kristian Lei

Mentor and professional singer Kristian Lei’s duet with a dude named Tanner (sorry, missed the surname)“The Prayer” had both Broadway pizzazz and operatic voices. Similarly, Rocky Brown’s (another pro) trio version of “A Million Dreams” from “The Greatest Showman” with Sienna and Janell (spelling?) had precisely the kind of charisma that sizzled, when talent helped sell the tune.

Ryan Sousa, a father of an Ohana pupil, excelled in a close-to-the-finale momentum with a sweet, emotional “Bring Him Home” from “Les Misérables.”

Tanner returned to embrace “Music of the Night,” from “Phantom of the Opera,” to extend  and spin the Broadway wheel, followed by a “Wicked” duet of the iconic “I Have Been Changed” song  by an adult duo whose names I don’t want to screw up, so won’t attempt trying, with a grand finale of “You Will Be Found,” from musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” the signature bandaged arm not required (though it would have been a kick if someone had a faux broken left arm) that finally demonstrated the depth and unifying resources in Ohana Arts.The integrated harmonies, and the vastness of the assembly, were impressive.

Ohana Arts’ finale number “You Will Be Found” engaged the entire company.

The presence of emerging local talent hasn’t gone unnoticed by Blue Note, which is making it possible for non-profits like Ohana Arts to make a pitch for a slot, without the normal rental fees, and Blue Note also enabling public support of monetary kokua on its website. Great win-win for all – for organizations eager to mount a cabaret show. …

And that’s Show Biz. …

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