REVIEW: A BALMY, PRIDE-FILLED ‘MERMAID’

“The Little Mermaid,” a Disney animated film and later a Broadway musical, is a balmy but bewildering ride through the land of make believe.

Ariel, the mermaid, is an undersea princess, if you follow the Disney norm; she yearns to have legs, to live above the ocean, and is willing to give up her precious voice so she can connect with a prince with legs.

So, yes, this show has “legs,” a term referring to something or someone with possibilities and popularity to sustain grand box office in the theatrical realm. The Farrington Performing Arts Center’s production, now streaming, is inspired by a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, and boasts a darling princess in Elisha Caneso-Cabasan, who has a requisite sweet voice; a surly but not threatening antagonist Ursula in Nadia Amian, who has the build but not enough thunder to be frightening; and a handsome Justin Basques who looks the part of Prince Eric but possesses a slim voice.

Elisha Caneso-Cabasan as Ariel

Thus, the recipe leading to a convincing make-believe tale to change a fish tale to legs is lacking ingredients to make the stew stimulating. This is an uneven but likable production. What’s bewildering is the lack of interest in the subsidiary characters: the six sisters, the red crab Sebastian who looks like a lobster (with hands, not claws), for instance.

In the original Broadway version, the sisters wore Heelys (shoes with skates) to simulate gliding, but logically, not a priority here. Miguel Cadoy III, Farrington’s eager and savvy drama honcho who directed and oversaw music, delivers an eye-filling production in the “High School Musical” manner, enabling his cast of mostly students new to acting to become fantasy characters to stage a two-hour show (with a five-minute intermission) to build pride, community and deliver a virtual product with sufficient cheer and energy. Caneso-Cabasan is a senior; Basques, Keith Cabbab as Sebastian the crab and Bernielle Isidro as Chef Louis are 2020 Farrington grads. And Johnric Acosta as Flounder, a Kapalama Elementary fifth grader, are guest troupers in the endeavor.

Nadia Amian as Ursula

This is the first cast I’ve seen in any performance – live in the flesh or taped and shown virtually – where the singers-actors don clear face masks in these pandemic times. Certainly, it’s a safety protocol, but surely the masks must interfere with projection and delivery of words and vocals. So: kudos for this mask-erade.

Of course, the score – music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater — includes hit songs “Part of the World” and “Under the Sea.” You’ll smile, and perhaps privately hum, with the joy of recognition.

Families with young children will adore the show, which has a sleek look thanks to a series of slide projections instead of movable sets to designate scenes. These prefab elements enable student productions to project a measure of professionalism at minimal cost and could be the wave of the future in Broadway productions, where these budget-friendly background visuals have started to emerge.

Prince Eric: Justin Basques as Prince Eric

Unlike other streaming shows, available at the discretion of the viewer, “Mermaid” is available only at specified times. Remaining regular performances are at 2 p.m. today (April 25) and May 2, and at 7 p.m. April 30 and May 1. Three performances have been added, at 8:30 a.m. April 28, 29 and 30, to enable schools to tune in, but also open to the public. Tickets are $10 for a single adult (18 and above) and $5 for single students (17 and below), and $20 for a family of three or more people. A streaming code will be sent for each purchased ticket to be used for one device. To purchase tickets, visit https://www.showtix4u.com.

A STREAM YEAR FOR OSCARS

Sunday’s Academy Awards telecast on ABC is the industry’s most abnormal Oscarcast ever, one that’s frustrating to plug into due to the pandemic. Though I’ve seen a clutch of nominees, none were viewed in a traditional movie theater. Streaming has been the only option for most, and viewing a film via streaming is, well, akin to watching TV. You miss the bells and whistles of large screen watching, and popcorn with arare, too. I mean, do you make homemade popcorn to sit in front of the tube?

Didn’t think so. Still, it’s fun to predict who’ll win. It helps to have seen a flick and a performance, so the fewer movies you’ve streamed, the more you feel distanced. How was he, or she, in a touted role?

Nonetheless, I’m posting my choices, but only in films I’ve seen, Happily, what I’ve viewed seem to be among the wider-reaching films in a year of unfortunate circumstances limiting access, and consequently, viewing.

So:

Best Picture: “Nomadland.” Hulu exhibited this one – a dark, often gloomy, fascinating and organic glimpse of a subculture of folks who aren’t homeless, but live like those without a roof, traveling hither and yon in vans. It’s mobile home folks, inhabiting camps and thus co-exist as a tight, itinerant community with shared woes and hopes.

Best Director: Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland.” She yielded an artistic stroke, converting the somber and lonely landscape into a character with a commanding sense of reality. Besides directing, she wrote, edited and produced the film.

Boseman

Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Netflix screened this one, and Boseman (he died last August) is a sentimental posthumous winner playing a brilliant but stubborn musician in the band of a luminous blues singer in difficult times.

Best Actress: Frances McDormand, “Nomadland.” She was gritty, grand and commanding as the turf she frequented as a roving gypsy in her van, a difficult journey and a demanding challenge.

McDormand

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah.” He inhabited the role of Fred Hampton, the Black Panther Party chairman and activist, dominating the film in what clearly is a leading actor performance, which sort of gives him a better chance of winning this category. Premiered on HBO Max.

Best Supporting Actress: I have to pass here, since I’ve not seen Yuh-Jung Youn, the favored winner from “Minari.” Streamed on YouTube and Apple TV. I’ve seen the other nominees (Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy;” Amanda Seyfried, “Mank;” and Maria Bakaloa, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) but if Youn doesn’t win, I’ll go with Close.

Two categories I can vote for, on titles I’ve seen:

Best Documentary Feature: “My Octopus Teacher,” a stunning diary of undersea mystery (streamed on Netflix), following a favored octopus, who appears, disappears, and reappears in the watery forests off the coast of South Africa. Kudos to co-directors James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich for this visual journal that doubles as a love story of dedication and perseverance between a sea creature and a filmmaker. In pandemic times, this was a splash with flash.

Best Animated Film: “Soul Story,” a joyous triumph by Pete Docter, whose Pixar experience yielded a stunning, entertaining, and about a jazz musician who goes to heaven. Should win for Best Score. Easily could have been a contender for Best Picture. Streamed on Disney+.

REVIEW: BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL

BY WAYNE HARADA

“Brighter Days: Reflections and Hope,” the first virtual production from the I’m a Bright Kid Foundation, is a revealing and satisfying demonstration of the magic of theater and the power of inspiration.

 It streamed last night (April 18), originating from the Hawaii Theatre, and will be viewable online through June 18. I urge you check it; this was a major undertaking for IABK.

A select cast of former theater students and actors of the late Ronald E. Bright, along with a group of youngsters who never previously studied under the prolific and influential teacher and director, collectively made “Brighter Days” a beautiful homage to their mentor. His values resonate through the voices, the dancing, and ultimately the joyous smile of achievement, especially noticeable in the camerawork. You can’t fake pride, excellence and satisfaction with the dandy, telling closeups.

Ron Bright, aka Mr. B
Jade Bright

The show marks IABK’s debut in e-theater and celebrates the stage group’s fifth season in these pandemic times. The mission, certainly, is to salute and preserve the 50-year legacy of Mr. B, as he is respectfully addressed by his legions of students and college, then and now.

What he shared – believe in what you do, try your best, appreciate the community of theatrical peers – was reflected in the choice of numbers that embodied his mana’o and the pure glow of accomplishment in song after song after song.

 Several pre-recorded segments, including an impressive and mobile opening number by singers and dancers beginning in the Kaneohe environs where Bright produced and directed popular shows attracting sell-out houses, then proceeding to the sidewalks of the Hawaii Theatre in the Chinatown area downtown. (Too bad quick glimpses inside the Paliku Theatre, as well as the Ronald E. Bright Theatre nameplate at Castle High School, weren’t included; these were Bright’s arena of creating good times and great memories).

With certainty, the live-from-the-stage sequences were spectacular, with stellar troupers reprising their solos from previous performances: Jade Stice (“Spark of Creation”), Miguel Cadoy III (“Lost in the Wilderness”), Kevin Pease  and Michael Cabagbag (“I’d Give It All to You”), Bailey Barnes (“Home”), Michael Bright and Chad Atkins (“The Hardest Part of Love”), and Jade Bright (“Ain’t It Good“). Hidden or obvious messages galore, but the essence and challenges for a good life, linked to hope, love and trust, are there if you li

Jade Stice

Others on centerstage: Susan Hawes, Vanessa Manuel-Mazzullo, Selah Fonda and Alyse Glaser, rendering reflective and updated performances from shows produced in IABK’s four previous seasons, including “The Wiz,” “Songs from a New World,” “Children of Eden,” “Seussical KIDS,” “Once on This Island” and “On Dragonfly Wings.” Younger kids who soloed include Drew Bright, Kaikou Kaimuloa and Austin Pangilinan.

And yes, there were several of Bright ohana participants, live or on tape.

A pre-taped “Whistle a Happy Tune,” featuring Kathleen Stuart who played

Anna years ago in Bright’s “King and I” while a Castle High School student and more recently reprised in IABK’s first show, “Brighter Still,” was updated to include children involved in the latter cast. It’s a joy to witness a new breed of IABK evolving.

Devon Nekoba and Jodi Leong, IABK alumni, co-hosted the show. Another high-visibility local actor, Kimee Balmilero, hosts two pre-taped chat sessions with ex-Brighters, including Jordan Shanahan, Chris Bright and Cliffton Hall, shown below with Kimee, and Daniel Boland, Jacquelyn Holland-Wright, Matt Gifford-Tinker and John Bryan in a second e-chat. Talk about tear-jerking memories.

Mary Chesnut Hicks and Jade Stice co-directed, with Clarke Bright as musical director and Miguel Cadoy III as vocal director.

The show will continue to be streamed through June 18 via the IABK YouTube channel, with a suggested $5 donation per person, though other contribution levels are available, $100 for IABK legacy donations or $25 for ohana contributions. Larger sums, of course, are welcome. For details, go to www.imabrightkid.org/tickets