ELGORT’S NIHONGO IS CONVINCING

Have you been caught in the spell of “Tokyo Vice,” the enticing and intriguing HBO Max series that explores the dark corridors and Yakuza-clouded world of Japan journalism?

Ansel Elgort, who was Tony in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” stars as a newbie gaijin (foreign) crime reporter named Jake Adelstein, who is trying to earn his stripes in the daunting world of Japan’s gloomy and structural media world, based on Jake Adelstein’s novel about a fish-out-of sea element. While Elgort appears to speak and write fluent Japanese, he cannot appease his bosses because he asks too many questions, doesn’t abide to demeaning orders since he smells opportunity in the shadowy world of Hiroto Katagiri, the veteran police chief played by legendary Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, who has the power and voice to emphatically ban a cub reporter’s story, reasons not needed.

Ansel Elgort

Elgort is one of the executive producers of this hypnotic drama, which explores the underbelly of Tokyo’s 1990s club-and-crime scene, where an apparent murder cannot be reported as such, unless the cops say it is. The reporter is an eager soul with a thirst for that prime story that will put him on the map, but in the three (of eight) episodes I’ve watched, he’s still got a lot of tough challenges to confront. His fashionably long tresses, tall and lanky frame might project a model, but clearly, he’s a loose cannon uncertain what to make of Rinko Kikuchi’s Emi, his contemporary boss who oversees his assignments but always trashes his work. So he’s still working on his fame to turn around his shame.

Ansel Elgort, center, the Japanese-speaking gaijin in “Tokyo Vice.”

Director Michael Mann, who helmed the pilot episode, projects a film noirish universe, with its obvious hooks: crooked Yakuza agents pressuring clients to pay protection fees; hostess bars where Samantha, a transplanted haole played by Rachel Keller, is trying to work out her status since she speaks and adapts to Japanese ways. Samantha and Adelstein become friends as he conducts his own investigations to discover there is a link between the demise of two Japanese nationals whose deaths might be related, even in the manner of death. One, with multiple stabbing wounds; the other, a gasoline-stained guy who lights a match in an spectacle of a fiery finale; different but decidedly with similar hooks.

Action aside, a pleasant surprise was to discover an Island name in the credit rolls – that of Haiku, Maui native Destin Daniel Cretton, who is one of the producers for at least six episodes of “Tokyo Vice.” Suddenly, it became “Tokyo Nice,” with a local spin in the story and action.

Destin Daniel Cretton

Cretten, of course, is known primarily for shaping and directing “Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings,” the mammoth Marvel box office hit, which made Simu Liu a major action film star.

This, along with other yet-to-be-completed projects, including a sequel to “Shang-Chi,” will keep his name on the front burner for the next few years.

All the episodes of “Tokyo Vice” are streaming now and the spoken Japanese is sub-titled for gaijin viewers.

It’s gritty, atmospheric, and preciously dark, and part of the fun is to recognize quick shots of Japan’s bevy of tucked-away sushi bars and ramen shops, amid the crowded streets and alleyways of marketplaces and the network of subway trains.

And oh, about Elgort’s nihongo – no, he’s not fluent in the Japanese lingo but had to memorize lines, but managed to be a convincing conversationalist because of his diction and delivery. Apparently, he became a master of his lines and even could ad-lib, properly, the manner and the message in Japanese. …

And that’s Show Biz. …

WITH KING, EVERYTHING IS ‘BEAUTIFUL’

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is one of the jewels of Broadway biographies crammed with hit songs. The title says it all. Beautiful, indeed.

Like “Jersey Boys,” the musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, “Beautiful” is bountiful with nuggets of revelation and nibbles about the composer of a kegload of pop songs fueling the soundtrack of a specific era.

Like “Ain’t So Proud,” the mega-hit loaded musical cementing and celebrating the astonishing career of The Temptations, “Beautiful” is one of Broadway’s savvy exploration and expedition of a songwriter who had the will and smarts to come from the ranks of creator to the spotlight of a performer.

And Sara Sheperd, as the queen who is King in this national touring company of “Beautiful,” celebrates the riches of the King’s cache of hot pops and its cycle of growth and appeal that not only made King famous and rich, but also brought glory and shimmer to the careers of many performers over a span of five decades.

Sara Sheperd, as Carole King, in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”

The show, closing today (final performances at 1 and 6:30 p.m.) at Blaisdell Concert Hall, is an inspirational saga of the journey of an unknown composer who was able to cross the planks of uncertainty to make a name and enjoy her own fame as a prolific tunesmith who deserved to win back ownership of her compositions.

I apologize for the lateness of this review; I had minor health issues when “Beautiful” opened last Tuesday, and last night (Saturday, April 23) happened to be my ticket choice night before the finale.  Advice: if you have time, and can secure some tickets, go for it!

“Beautiful” is the launch of a first-time, four-musicals season that comprise a Broadway in Hawaii package this year. Later titles are “Cats,” “Hamilton” and “Jersey Boys.”

The play begins with King at home at her keyboard, prepping for her career-high concert onstage at Carnegie Hall, and ends with that triumphant performance fueled by her 1971 album, “Tapestry.” Talk about a dream come true.

That’s what friends are for: from left, Sara Sheperd as Carole King, Sara King as Cynthia Weil, Ryan Farnsworth as Barry Mann, and James D. Gish as Gerry Goffin.

Indeed, the King tapestry of tunes – then and now – defines the soundtrack of many lives. A Brooklynite, King juggled the struggles of becoming a female composer and young wife and mother to a successful hit-maker whose marriage was a victim of her sheer success. Sheperd embodies the spirit of a composer-turned-singer, visually (the tousled long hair) and vocally (a voice that makes you feel the earth move).

Her early collaborator, in songwriting and romance, was Gerry Goffin (James D. Gish, a cad with charisma), who shared ambitions and dreams of writing chart hits for a bevy of soloists and groups who would gain success, thanks to the King-Goffin well of tunes.

King and Goffin meet and compete with another duo of tunesmiths, Barry Mann (a comedic Ryan Fansworth, perfectly enacting a career hypochondriac) and Cynthia Weil (an in-control Sara King, as a fashionista and buddy in partnering), who became lifetime allies, during good and bad times.

The pleasure with “Beautiful” is the stroll down memory lane, reliving the memories of groundbreaking careers.

And because the leading characters are primarily singers, not dancers, the choreographic wonders – necessary in this kind of bio-musical — are provided by some of the delightful hitmakers of the past, like The Drifters (Torrey Linder, Jacquez Linder-Long, Julian Malone and Ben Toomer), who glide and dance through audience faves like “Up on the Roof” and “On Broadway.”

Then there’s The Shirelles (Rosharra Francis, Jamary A. Gill, Danielle Herber and Nazarria Workman) enacting “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” with empowering sass.

It helps to have a little knowledge of historical facts. The mecca of pop music invention was the Brill Building, located at 1650 Broadway, known as the “factory” where composers (King and Goffin included) assembled to create hit songs like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” for the Righetous Brothers, “Locomotion” for Little Eva,  Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby,” Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” Neil Sedaka’s “Oh Carol,” and The Chiffons’ “One Fine Day” (though the musical credits Janelle Woods, played by Rosharra Francis, as the deliverer of this title —  it’s an error, because she never recorded it) and Barry Mann’s “Who Put the Bomp.”

If you were astute back in the day, you’ll remember music “names” like Don Kirshner and Lou Adler, who were moguls in King’s prolific career.

Oh yeah, there’s a Monkees tune, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” in the roster, but it’s overshadowed by King’s signatures such as “You’ve Got a Friend,” “It’s Too Late,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like ) A Natural Woman.”

And remain for the curtain call; Sheperd and company do an audience sing-along, enabling you to say– after your exit — that you sang with her. …

And that’s Show Biz. …

‘EVERYTHING‘ CONSIDERED, IT ROARS

Nothing is simple or sane, and nowhere does it say it has to be.

So “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a stew of incredibility and imagination, perhaps everything and anything you might not expect in a film.

It’s maniacal, but magical; it’s whimsical, yet wonderful; it’s delightful yet disastrous;  and it seemingly doesn’t end, so it offers twin endings. Like, “The End” twice.

Basically, it’s an original oddity, starring an agile and admirable Michelle Yeoh, as an operator of a laundromat who doesn’t quite know how to pay her bills so has ills with the IRS. She is the essence of a wreck-a-holic on steroids, in a grand way.

As directed by a pair of Daniels, who like to be known as the Daniels (last names, Kwan and Sheinert), this is an action film disguised as a comedy yet plays like a superheroine adventure complete with matters of the universe. It’s like a video game run amok, a family sit-com with kicks and kinks leading to a cosmic explosion of emotions and antics, a vision or version of apocalyptic end-of-the-world with more domestic ripples anchored to getting along with grandpa and a gay daughter, etc.

Whew!

Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan

It’s a longish journey (running time, 2:20, but seems endlessly longer) that dodges the finish line with extended gags, which results in lags, and it certainly is overwhelming and overpowering in the constant conflicts of relationships between leading and secondary characters.

Yeoh is remarkably athletic in stamina as Evelyn Wang, who ditched the family while she was young, who now owns a laundromat with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, the once-young lad in “Indiana Jones and the  Temple of Doom,” now converted into a modern-day comedic Jackie Chan), who unite with patriarch Gong Gong  (James Hong), the aging but able great-grandfather of the Chinese elderly dude), to celebrate Chinese New Year. But life is complex; the washing machines are below the parental residence, Waymond is seeking a divorce from Evelyn, who has to face the music and madness of an IRS audit; the couple’s daughter (Stephanie Hsu), has admitted she’s gay and brings home “good friend” partner Becky (Tallie Medel) for the family shebang.

Jamie Lee Curtis

Evelyn’s nemesis here includes Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), the irrepressible IRS investigator who threatens the demise of the laundromat unless its owner can settle its questionable tax debt. Curtis is recognizable in face, but is padded with body prosthetics, and turns in a wacky, wicked performance as an IRS-er you don’t want to mess with.

The themes of filial love and respect, parental patience, spousal connections, and a heavy dose of metaverse threats and invasions where nothing is as it seems, everything and everywhere is blended into a toxic brew as if thrown into a food processor. Time is bent, twisted, flashing backward and forward, blurring reality.

And there are some icky, sticky, even sickly mess of elements, like a discomforting anal moment with a trophy substituting for a sexual device. And silly, recurring instances of googly eyes; you know, the kind of stick-on fake eyes.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are frequent unexpected sci-fi gems: hotdogs posing as fingers, toes playing the piano, for starters.

Because of its original, fresh storytelling, unfolded in bursts of clever visual and aural trickery, the Daniels have created a logical Gen Z product with word-of-mouth assist in making this a buzzed-about hit.

However, “Everything” is not for everyone, since mostly everything is unconventional and stuff keeps popping up everywhere without expectation. But you will be awed and astonished at everything you understand and even astonished by everything you didn’t quite get.

However, everything considered, you’ll have a roar of a great time.

And that’s Show Biz…

WHAT’S THE BUZZ? ‘SUPERSTAR’ SOARS

Though 50 years old, “Jesus Christ Superstar” still has relevance along with a dose of splendor,  without showing its old age.

Diamond Head Theatre’s revival, which opened Friday and continues through April 24, is a mix of the modern and  the traditional, embracing  the “rock opera” facet of theatrical genres, wholly sung as in an opera, not recited or spoken.

The show has a checkered history but has roots tied to a Honolulu singer-guitarist from Roosevelt High School, Yvonne Elliman, who became a global star first as the Mary Magdalene character on a concept album, then as the female centerpiece in the retelling of events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, initially in the breakout movie and then in the subsequent Broadway production. Till today, Elliman generally is the best known among the early “Superstar” performing circle.

DHT cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Photo by Brandon Miyagi

The DHT endeavor, directed and choregraphed  by John Rampage, DHT’s artistic director, has a trio of reliable lead troupers – Aleks Pevec as Jesus, Bailey Barnes as Mary, and Taj Gutierrez as Judas Iscariot – who make the show soar. They are all locals, with Pevec as the only one with Actors Equity Broadway creds, and his vocal prowess in delivery radiates and illuminates; and while only Gutierrez is a fanciful dancer, all three have logged previous local musical credits leading to this production.

Aleks Pevec

The tale, exploring the last seven days of Jesus’ life through the vision of Judas, one of his disciples, in an alternating love-hate/loyalty-betrayal relationship that includes notable conflicting sentiments and a peck-on-the-cheek by Judas to Jesus. Further, Judas sings a smidgin of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” regarding the crucifixion and complexities of friendship. The mix of Christianity and Judaism prevails, so yes, this one has an empowerful religious dose.

The score, by the eminent Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics), includes several enduring hit songs (“Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” both delivered with warmth and expression by Barnes), and “Superstar” (led by Gutierrez and the ensemble). Pevec’s presence and power punctuate “What’s the Buzz,” “Hosanna,” “Gethsemane” and “The Temple,” showing off his pedigree, with able assistance from the ensemble.

Bailey Barnes

Larry Paxton, veteran DHT leading man, appears as the regal Pontius Pilate, the governor, sharing his grandeur through his voice but dons “period” robes.  Costumed in  Karen G. Wolfe’s eye-filling red creation, with one kimono-length left sleeve and a golden vest, perhaps makes a fashion statement as the  wardrobe “moment” in the show.

So you know in advance,  a pair of traditional gender-bending secondary male characters/roles are credibly portrayed by Aiko Schick (King Herod) and Jody Bill (Simon Zealotes).

Larry Paxton

Movement is frequent and varied here; early on, Rampage’s expansive choreography borrows from ballet and hip-hop and more, and he injects an element of vaudeville and Broadway late into the show, during the supposed dream elements of Judas’ Prince-like prancing in fringed sleeves, fronting a trio of “Dreamgirls” in sequined, showy gowns. Score yet another triumph for costumer Wolfe.

Roslyn Catracchia, musical director, makes her seven-member combo sound double its size, handling the pumped-rock tempos and more melodic numbers with equal gusto and flair; the climactic laments, matching the chants and chiming of the ensemble, are properly eerie and discomforting to fit the prevailing mood.

Dawn Oshima’s scaffolding centerpiece on the stage – a versatile decision for functionality and simplicity —  allows two stairways for entrances and exits, and two levels for performances that shape  and move both the crowd and solo moments of the show.

Performances continue Thursdays through Sundays, through April 24. Tickets: $15 to $35, at www.diamondheadtheatre.com  or phone 808-733-0274. …

And that’s Show Biz. …

KAPONO AND JERRY HIT BULLSEYE

Henry Kapono’s “Artist 2 Artist” series, wherein he invites a notable peer from the Waikiki mainstream to partner with him in chit-chat and vocalizing, scored an unexpected  bullseye with Jerry Santos.

Kapono, onetime collaborator with Cecilio Rodriguez (Cecilio and Kapono, remember?), and Santos, leader of the beloved Olomana group, shared a measure of personal reflection and astounding artistry, in an unforgettable 2:15 concert last night (March 31) at Blue Note Hawaii.

The nightclub, at the Waikiki Outrigger resort, has been attracting sellout houses as the pandemic protocols are diminishing. For a Thursday night, the gathering was an emphatic indicator that islanders and visitors are weary from mask-wearing and nestling at home. When a marquee show anticipating a roster of signature tunes from both acts is the lure, a sellout was inevitable.

Henry Kapono

But this outing was somewhat of a new adventure for both Kapono and Jerry. While each have signature tunes in their respective credits, the evening was a reaffirming evidence that this pair of seasoned singers-composers, who helped shaped the Hawaiian Renaissance of island music from the 60s to the 80s,  needn’t have to rely on the best-of-the-best to earn applause. Risky perhaps, but this was an informative exploration of hidden gems in both C&K’s and Olomana’s history.

Further, Kapono has been test-driving this format of sharing tales and tunes for many months now, and has hit paydirt as he seems a lot more confident, assured, relaxed and conversational with his guests. There’s no script, only camaraderie to set the mood and manner, beginning with an exchange of alma matter digs, Kapono being of Punahou upbringing, Jerry of Kamehameha stock. (On an unrelated comparison, Kapono donned shoes, Jerry was barefooted, for this event For what it’s worth).

Jerry Santos

The agenda began with Kapono, clad in informal black top and grey jeans with a backward-worn baseball cap, making the first pitch – a new tune, “Sweetheart of Mine,” with a pop/country-western demeanor. He segued into a hip new arrangement of “Home in the Islands” (always fund to tweak an oldie and give it new sass) and revealed that he composed the tune late one night while in San Francisco back in the day.

He assumed the role of a troubadour, with one of his staples, “Friends,” telling one and all, “always keep your friends,” and yes, the audience knew this classic musical hand-shaking of sorts. Sing, and they sing-along, too.

Soon thereafter, the evening’s format focused on guest Jerry’s growing up days, and there was a consensus on who inspired them in composing music; an ensuing duet on Kui Lee’s “Days of My Youth” was part of the trek down memory lane. Turned out that both gents adored and admired the prolific Lee, whose compositions put Don Ho on the map.

We also learned that Kapono once played at the New Frontier and Toppe Ada Shoppe

Henry Kapono and Jerry Santos in an Artist 2 Artist outing at Blue Note Hawaii.

in Waikiki, Jerry at Gauguin and Black Angus in Waikiki , when they were not yet part of the glittery galaxy of island stars.

Jerry was asked how he came to create his best-known tune, “E Ku’u Home O Kahaluu,” and it also turned out that he wrote this one in San Francisco while he was homesick for his island home.

Kamuela Kimokeo

The song then was performed, with audience members invited to chime in, with trusty support for Jerry from Kamuela Kimokeo, his longtime partner in gigs outside of the Olomana umbrella. Not only has he learned all of the Olomana repertoire, he is a master of ki ho alu, Hawaiian slack key guitar.

Jerry and Kamuela provided the bulk of the evening’s riches, showcasing titles not commonly dusted off from the Olomana lifespan of the late Robert Beaumont, which included recollections of that song about rainy Hilo and how the sound of rain made it into the recording, along with a bountiful medley of Olomana treasures including “Seabird” and “E Ku‘u Sweet Lei  Poina Ole,” the composition by Emma DeFries, which was a must-perform title during Beaumont’s tenure with Olomana, and for many years after his passing – 40 years ago. Clearly, this also was an homage to the late entertainer.

Indeed, because Jerry has not been so visible during the pandemic, these oldies dusted off for this gig, provided stirring memories from the group’s discography. Jerry seemed to get misty-eyed, too, reviving Henry Mitchell’s anthem for Kahoolawe, when Hawaiian activists were pushing for the island to be returned to the populace here after years of being a military target practice island.

To break up the solemnity of Kahoolawe, Jerry and Kamuela ventured into the double-entendre song “Tewe Tewe, about fishing, with also implications of a sexual nature, depending on how much you understand about this Hawaiian classic.

As the show neared its end, Kapono returned to the stage to render “Teach Your Children Well,” as well as a new composition, “Sailors of Fortune,” a lovely entry advocating the validity of dreams to make things happen, with Jerry doing counterpoint backup vocals.

What the world needs is not only dreamers, but lovers, so “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” was a handy sing-along, too.

And because the audience hollered “hana hou,” Kapono came back to share one more for the road, one of his C&K classics, “Sailing,” written for his dad who was not a sailor.

So, yes, there were little nuggets of information throughout the serenades right down to the final blackout.

Kapono has another Artist 2 Artist show featuring the Makaha Sons, set for April 28. …

And that’s Show Biz. …