Diamond Head Theatre’s “Oliver!” boasts a girl , Caris Leong, portraying Oliver Twist. Talk about a surprising twist.

And Jeff Andrews delivers a rousing and riveting performance as Fagin, a scoundrel by trade and a leader at heart, in shaping the dichotomy of this rarely performed Dickensian chestnut. He’s a baddie with a good heart.

Lionel Bart’s creation, rarely revived, perhaps is best remembered for a splendid 1968 film version that brought Bart’s book, music and lyrics to life, via a cache of tunes including “Consider Yourself,” “Where Is Love,” “I’d Do Anything,” and “As Long as He Needs Me.”

This one has survived the test of time.

Caris Leong, front and center, is Oliver in “Oliver!” at Diamond Head Theatre.

And yes, a classic line, “Please sir, I want some more,” uttered by the titular character seeking more (food) in the orphanage, reflects a somber tale of mistreatment of poor orphans by the wealthy based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel,“Oliver Twist.”

Jeff Andrews as Fagin

The musical magnifies brightness despite the darkness of Victorian misdeeds of both Mr. Bumble (Christian Clayborne) and Widow Corney (Lindsay Rabe) in a presiding climate of control and power.

The cadre of youths, propelled into pickpocketing under the tutelage of Fagin, a criminal, is essential to endure in a time where goodness manages to succeed despite prevailing despair.

 As directed and choreographed by John Rampage, ‘Oliver!’ is an unexpected triumph in these troubled pandemic times, with drama on both sides of the footlights.

The restriction of coronavirus had protocols throughout the rehearsal period; seating had to be shuffled, from full-house reservations altered to resolve socially distanced policies, meaning empty seats between patrons through the show’s finale this Sunday (Nov. 7). I managed to buy tickets for an add-on show this past Wednesday (Nov. 3), which quickly sold out.

Leong, who was one of the Matildas in DHT’s “Matilda” musical several years ago, is a perky and nimble Oliver who easily could pass for a boy urchin. You really accept her for her performance, and gender never is an issue.

The cast is peopled with delightful actors with storytelling skills. The Artful Dodger (Rocco Bechiran, a credible gangleader with spunk), Bill Sikes (Jake Wolf, a perfect villain who lacks ethics) and Nancy (Kim Anderson, sweet-voiced but tough ).

It’s great to have an orchestra combo live, instead of pre-recorded), with maestro Phil Hidalgo at the helm. The sound of music — live! — is back.

Dawn Oshima’s set and lighting design are more functional than fancy, with a central catwalk/bridge with arch, accented with a pair of staircases on both ends. It works very nicely for the flow of traffic.

And Karen G. Wolfe’s costumes reflect the Dickensian times, with a flair of color for women in dresses, a lovely long overcoat for Fagin to prance and preach, an array of hats and shawls, and appropriately drab workhouse duds for the orphan gang.

And hurrah! Consider yourself lucky because  the playbill is back, so pick one up inside the main lobby, before heading for your seat – you’ll need to know who does what.

Tickets will be scarce, if available, so check the website, www.diamondheadtheatre.com


“Be More Chill,” finally out of the lockdown freezer and live and chilling on the Manoa Valley Theatre stage, reflects the flavor of the Broadway musical genre that is evolving with regularity, if not consistency.

As directed and choreographed by Andrew Sakaguchi, “Chill” is hip, loud, ludicrous at times, and now. Meaning it has youth appeal, its intended audience, not so much for graying oldsters; it’s a bit like “Dear Evan Hansen,” with its focus on technology and social media, and “The Prom,” with its high school momentum involving kids in their own weird whirl (like in most musicals about high schoolers).

So there exists a great divide:  parents and adults are not exactly tuned in on the same sci-fi electronic waves as the youths.

In this one, Jeremy (Darian Keanu Ruis Aquino) is an outsider trying to be an insider, who lacks confidence while yearning to be the beau of Chistine (Alanna  Poelzing), his fellow drama student united by a production, and her lack of focus is emblematic of many kids today. He’s mighty likeable and mobile, with a voice that is as powerful as his dance moves; she’s the stand-offish picture of sweet indecision, trying to find her heart.

Darian Keanu Ruiz Aquino (Jeremy) and Alanna Poelzing (Christine), in MVT’s “Be More Chill>”

The musical, written by Joe Iconis (music and lyrics) and Joe Tracz (book), is set in a suburban New Jersey high school, where Halloween looms and a costumed song and bewitching tune makes this a timely arrival. So tricks and treats loom in the playout.

The key characters in Jeremy’s ‘hood include the Squip (Brandon Caban), an avatar in black costume festooned with neon green lights, an invasive alien supposedly a Keanu Reeves look-alike (not!) with powers to guide Jeremy in life and girlfriend issues; and Jeremy’s best buddy Michael (Moku Durant), who also is a geek with loyalty who gets locked in a bathroom; and Jeremy’s dad (Devon Nekoba), who hasn’t worn pants his wife left home.

Thus, the score includes such weirdo tunes as “Michael in the Bathroom” and “The Pants Song,” not relevant outside of the show but expressive and essential in defining some of the issues in the storytelling.

And among the ensemble, Bailey Barnes as Jenna is a multi-threat, as singer and dancer who projects and delivers on cue, and Melani Carrie as Chloe, whose seductive vocal and moves provide precise tension at the right moment.

The tale is based on Ned Vizzini’s novel with the same title, and the show began as an off-Broadway hit that transferred to the Broadway stage. It suits the MVT space well, thanks to Michelle Bisbee’s lean, clean and inventive set that includes numerous stairways and playing platforms, plus turntable wall panels that spin and display backstage mirror and sink, a small cluster of lockers, and even a pair of urinals … all smartly illuminated by Janine Myers’ precise lighting design.

Ticketing advisory: Your preordered reserved seats might have changed since you placed your order (mine did), so it’s advisable to arrive early and resolve seating issues, if any. MVT had to modify seating for social distancing, since protocols changed the rules after sales had started.

Details: www.manoavalleytheatre.com or call  988-6131.


With the launch of a new TV season Monday (Sept. 20), and  “NCIS” mothership switching to the lineup from its long-time Tuesday perch, the newbie “NCIS: Hawai‘i” appears to benefit in the ratings, thanks to its slot following the original show’s 19th season lift-off.

A new franchise — this one filmed in Hawai’i — can always use a helpful boost.

Here’s how the evening played out in the ratings:

— No. 1 – CBS’ “NCIS,” the Mark Harmon foundation of the franchise, attracting an audience of 8.5 million viewers and 0.7 rating in the coveted 18 to 49 age demo, a skosh lower than last season’s debut on a Tuesday night.

— No. 2 — NBC’s “The Voice,” with 7.2 million viewers, topping the demos with a 1.1 rating. Its audience of younger fans reflected the uptick in the demo.  

— No. 3 – CBS’“NCIS: Hawai‘i,” with 6.6 million viewers and a 0.5 demo rating. Not bad for the newbie.

Mark Harmon as agent Gibbs.

In fine fashion, there was Harmon, as lead agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, recovering from his boat explosion from last season’s finale, and finally connecting with his team including special agent Timothy McGee (played by Sean  Murray). Sure, Gibbs is an often threatening bossman, who often smacks the back of the heads of his agents, but he has their back, and vice versa. That rapport is a two-way street; respect for the honcho, and support for the chief. That camaraderie has been the spine that has kept NCIS on the straight-up as the No. 1 procedural for nearly two decades.

Vanessa Lachey, appearing as Jane Tennant, the first woman leading an NCIS team, must not have gotten the memo, or its script writers didn’t, in the first episode of the “Hawai‘i” installation. Her I’m-the-boss tone quickly created friction with a Navy Capt. Joe Milius, portrayed by Enver Gjokaj, with her colleagues awkwardly jostling for relevance. Leaders need to have mutual respect and sensible work ethics to co-exist and succeed.

Vanessa Lachey as agent Jane Tennant in “NCIS: Hawai’i.”

Tennant is a single mother, so is tasked to shape a comfortable home front while juggling her chores as a head agent. She is called from a soccer match to proceed to a plane deliberately pounding into a mountain, so the mission’s finally launched. At best, Lachey has potential to get that chip off her shoulder and lead the team effort. Might take two or three more episodes for this niggler to settle. Alex Tennant ([portrayed by Kian Talan) is the elder son of the lead character and Julie Tennant (played by Mahina Napolean) is the young sister and both logically can anticipate to be more visible in future episodes when the mother meter ticks.

The Hawai’i investigative team is a quirky lot. Lucy Tara (played by Yasmine Al-Bustami), eager to please and curiously swift to proclaim her standing, has an unexpected lesbian embrace, suggesting future LBGTQ themes down the line.

Kai Holman (played by Alex Tarrant) is a junior squad member returning to Hawai’i to serve, still trying to forget or escape his Waimanalo roots; he looms as a key figure, but seems unsettled about where to set anchor. He looks local/Hawaiian (he’s Maori, Samoan and Niuean) and orders kalua pig, manapua and loco moco from a food wagon, but clearly can’t feign the real-local ways. Yet. One of his issues is in doubting his dad, realistically portrayed by Moses Goods, a keiki o ka ‘aina. You can quickly recognize the legit in the first few utterances and moments. Yep.

Jesse Boone (portrayed by Noah Mills), is a homicide detective settling into a new job in the islands, and has the look and physique that could develop into a popular and major sidekick.

Kate Whistler (played by Tori Anderson) also is an outsider from the Defense intelligence Agency hoping to find her niche in the Pearl Harbor realm and seems to have a path for her own rise on the ladder of investigation—and possible revisit her eyebrow-raising smooch with Agent Tara.

And Ernie Malik (played byJason Antoon) is the sometimes goofy techie /intelligence guy – all procedurals have one – who has to dig up investigative files in quick moves.

When a franchise has four shows total (“Los Angeles” and the original still exist, ‘New Orleans” went to TV heaven), it’s tough to differentiate one from the other, except by setting. The military or cop jargon remain the same, but landscape matters. Problem is, “NCIS: Hawai’i” still has competish from locally-filmed “Magnum P.I.” (aerials, surf, hotels, green mountains when it rains), and frankly, reflecting back to the original “Hawaii Five-0,” “Magnum” and other Hawaii series as “Jake and the Fatman” and “Five-0” reboot, the novelty of sea-shore-sun is long gone. The major difference will be in the art of storytelling, and perhaps some day, bona fide Hawaiians, Asians and Pacific Islanders as principal cast, not secondary backgrounders. (Current fave: “Doogie Kamealoha,” the Disney+ creation, with lots of local faces and manners).

At least in the premiere, the newbie had the smarts to embrace local music in the soundtrack, notably “Island Style.” Words and sounds — meaning our cultural tunes — will boost and establish atmosphere, and further enhance and propel the images.

If nothing else, Lachey’s Tennant character has gusto and guts, speaking her mind, and totally immersing herself in island waters (well, clearly, her stunt double did that finale scene). The best bet going for her, and the island-based show, is the fact that it airs here at 9 p.m., following the mothership at 8 p.m. Mondays. Now it has to earn its own stripes. …

And that’s Show Biz. ….


Camila Cabello, front, with Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Nicholas Galitzine, Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver.

“Cinderella,” currently screening on Amazon Prime, is a pulsating rendering clearly for the 21st century generation, with a familiar tale retold for the Me-Gen crowd.

It opens with a thumping redo of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation,” with a dancing hip-hop crowd, quickly providing a wow factor that might surprise traditionalists. No bibbidi-bobbidi-boo here; clearly, this is not your grandma’s Ella.

Camila Cabello, the Cuban-American pop singer, swiftly introduces herself as the titular character, delivering Des’ree’s“You Gotta Be,” setting her personal tone, tempo and theme to come.

As a film musical, it’s a mixed bag of new and old melodies, with the familiar likely to be more popular than the newbies.

As written and directed by Kay Cannon, from an idea by James Corden (he doubles as  an exec-producer, and appears as one of mice-turned-coachmen when Ella heads to the ball), the update embraces  a woman’s viewpoint of making her own life choices.

Familiar voices and names  abound, punctuating values and versatility; it might be hodge-podge, but in the end, it all works because Cabello brings innocence and hope to the party. Yes, she’s the reluctant princess with a penchant for designing gowns, and she’s not interested in becoming a trophy bride. Perhaps not till the finale, anyway.

The ingredients are all here: the stepmother, Vivian, not so wicked in Idina Menzel’s interpretation. And yes, hers is a wholly wonderful vocal instrument, a la her Broadway creds in “Wicked,” but Pierce Brosnan as King Rowan is no better or worse than his “Mamma Mia” stint, but he fits the mold as the rigid royal who lacks ambition. Minnie Driver is Queen Beatrice, who isn’t given much to do, but comes out with the most relevant posture of credibility late in the party.

Galitzine as Prince Robert and Cabello as Cinderella.

Clearly the jewel of the project is Billy Porter as the Fairy Godmother, visually and vocally a piece of skillful work in his gilded finery of a gown.

Since this is a princess tale, not a prince’s story,  Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Robert has  the dubious task of dimming his headlights, not overshadowing Ella. He’s not a bad singer, however, but the rigidity of the Cinderella plot disallows romantic legitimacy. He goes searching for the midnight maiden, but the quest  is reduced to door-knocking, minus damsels trying to get foot into the shoe.

So we mentioned familiar ditties, borrowed hits rebooted with gusto, and  retrofitted  to fit into the tapestry of the kingdom:

  • Madonna’s “Material Girl,” the stepmom’s marry-for-money declaration.
  • Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” Prince Robert’s proclamation that he’d marry for love, not merely an arranged bride.
  • Earth Wind and Fire’s “Shining Star,” the  Fab Godmother’s vehicle to preen, as he/she turns the cinder girl into a saleable sizzler.
  • Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” the romantic anthem shared by Ella and the Prince, before the clock strikes 12;
  • Salt-N- Pepa with En Vogue’s “Whatta Man,” a crowd women rallying to earn the prince’s hand and wealth.
  • Jennifer Lopez’s “Let’s Get Loud,” a show-ending livewire to punctuate the happily-ever- after conclusion.
  • And yes, there are several new tunes in the soundtrack and the one to get on is Cabello’s composition, “Million to One.” It’s likely to be the film’s hit track; it is a made-for-radio, groomed-for-video gem.

Meanwhile, a Cinderella on the London stage

A footnote:  there’s another “Cinderella” – a new musical – earning applause  in the West End, London.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, with collaboration with Emerald Fennell and David Zippel, was shut down at the Gillian Lynne Theatre during the panemic, but returned to action in mid-August.

 The cast includes Carrie Hope Fletcher as Cinderella, Ivano Turco as Prince Sebastian, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as the Stepmother, Caleb Roberts as Prince Charming, and Rebecca Trehearn as the Queen.
In time, this one likely will set anchor on Broadway.


I finally made it to the “Beyond Van Gogh” exhibition at the Hawaii Convention Center, and thought I’d share some reflections to add to the abundant responses on social media.

The Gogh for broke images, from palette to the walls

I’ll do it in a Q&A format:

Sunny-bright sunflowers…
  • Is it worth attending? It’s a top-tier vehicle, on a wide tour here and elsewhere, and it’s clearly akin to a museum coming to you. You might encounter this on a future Mainland trip, but since it’s here, why not?
More sunflowers — oversized and overwhelming.
  • Is it costly? Nothing is truly cheap anymore; yes, admission is pricey, but for a discount of sort, go weekdays; weekend entry fees are higher. Weekend prices: $45 adult, $40 seniors, students, and military; $23 children (costs rounded out).
The Gogh guy, in one of his guises.
  • What makes this better than, say, an exhibit at the Honolulu Museum of Art? For starters, this is an immersive hap, so you’re part of the visuals you’ll encounter. The art comes to life, so to speak, swirling and dancing across all walls of the main exhibition area; many familiar artwork are depicted, but you may have to look hither and yon to see the range; the exhibit is exquisite in darkness, heightening the color.
  • Is it accessible for the handicapped? Yes, wheelchairs are allowed; chairs are available for the asking, once you’re at the exhibit area; there are limited benches, otherwise; I brought my own stool, since I tire when standing a long time, but took an open seat when it was vacated.
His architectural sense still is imaginative and wondrous.
  • What’s the best point of the exhibit? It’s a personal choice; you’ll be amazed at the range of Van Gogh’s self-portraits, and witness his altering brush stroke styles; I loved his still life, like sunflowers; the art provided a sense of how he felt about life, his country, his people. Especially stunning: “The Starry Night” and “The Sunflowers.”
  • Downsides? Not really, but a stroll through informational morsels was longish, with a lot to read; the intention is to educate, but pictures are worth, as they say, a thousand words, and the gallery of the paintings hit the mark. Oh, there’s the expected gift shop, a pop-up store, with T-shirts ($35), mugs, posters, and bookmarks ($6); no postcards, however.  Museum shop prices prevail.
  • Extended dates: Through Sept. 26..
  • Final words: The common punchline: Gogh see it!