‘ALMOST’ NEARLY A CHRISTMAS CHARMER

“Almost,” which means “not quite” or “nearly,” is an operative word in describing “The Year Christmas Was Almost Cancelled.”

It’s a holiday musical, which opened last night (Dec. 3) at Mamiya Theatre at St. Louis School/Chaminade College, and runs Fridays through Sundays through Dec. 18 as the lone family-friendly theatrical show in Honolulu this Christmas.

It is the premiere endeavor for Mo‘olelo Studios, and it’s almost certainly won’t be its last.

Adoringly written and directed by Kyle Kakuno with a delightful and charming score by Roslyn Catracchia, they also collaborated on the lyrics for the 10 assembled songs.

It’s a big little show, brimming with goodwill and tidings of the season, with potential to prevail as a future or returnee. It’s almost but not quite perfect.

The threat of a no-Christmas agenda emerges when Santa Claus (Matthew Pedersen, delightful with a commanding presence) discovers that he is ill and “burned out,” because of the pace and stress of the yuletide. Mrs. Claus (Callie Doan, comforting and forthright) summons a doctor (Jantzen Shinmoto) to assess the wellness of the man in the red suit. The analysis: Santa needs three months off to rest and recuperate, meaning there could be no Christmas just days ahead.

This is where the “almost” comes in. Santa’s workshop is filled with elves young and older, all concerned about the jolly one’s health and the dilemma of skipping Christmas. These elves are effusive, almost always singing and dancing with good cheer. There almost seems to be a scene missing, where elves help Santa with toy-making to fill his bag for delivery. The production lacks that holidaze hustle-and-bustle within the workshop.

The playbill for “The Year Christmas Was Almost Cancelled.”

Not that the elves aren’t helping Santa. They make hot chocolate and bake gingerbread cookies, like a kitchen squad,  supported by theme-specific tunes, “There’s Something About Hot Chocolate” and “Gingerbread Cookies.”

Can’t argue about the singing; the cast boasts expressive, impressive voices that underscore the excitement about providing nourishment for ill Santa. While Alexandria Zinov’s choreography is brisk and fills the stage, it doesn’t jingle with the Christmas spirit.

The ranks are filled with sweet and lively elves, with fairy tale names like Shinny (Poasa Aga), Gander (Christopher Casupang), Bushy (Samuel Tafolo), Alabaster (Sanoe Harris), Pepper  (Isaiah Castillo), Wunorse (La Faamausili-Siliato) and Sugarplum (Ka‘iulani Iaea), with their nationalities clearly reflecting diverse casting.

Catracchia’s songs like “I Believe in You” (sung by Iaea and Casupang) and “Christmas Magic” (rendered by Harris and Faamausili-Siliato and the elves) properly uphold the season’s messages and tidings. The merriment is perfect, not almost.

As the Narrator, Isaac Kapono Chock shares a welcoming spirit and presence, from his perch next to a Letters-to-Santa mailbox.

Now here’s a minor quibble, almost like a half-cup full, half-cup empty matter on whether Christmas is cancelled or not. It depends on where you are in the world– in Santa’s onstage workshop home or elsewhere around the world.

The bottom-line theme — that wellness and good health are equally important in your life — resonates with a feel-good aura. Almost makes you want to sing your favorite Christmas carol.

Hearty kudos to the production team. There’s periodic snow falling in the show, and Santa gets aboard his red sleigh (looks like Rudolph’s on sick leave) and the sleigh takes flight as the curtain falls. And that handy-dandy playbill listing cast and credits, is joyful and triumphant, a keepsake for the cast ensemble for years to come. The producers do everything right here.

Tip: After you exit, kids may take photos with Santa in the theater lobby; outside in the courtyard, there’s a free snowflake light show (nighttime) and more faux snow, plus hot cocoa with marshmallows (yummy!), gingerbread cookies and s’mores kits for purchase, for a merry show extra.

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“The Year Christmas Was Almost Cancelled”


Showtimes: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 18.

Tickets: $20 for adults, $15 for students, at www.moolelostudios.com
extra.

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And that’s Show Biz. …

RAINBOW CONNECTION: 10 TAKE-AWAYS

Randy Rainbow last night (Dec. 2) concluded his months-long Pink Glasses tour at the Hawaii Theatre. And it was an effervescent, eclectic and entertaining evening.

Rainbow (his real name)  combines live singing with his famous pre-recorded YouTube videos targeting mostly bad-behaving folks in the political spectrum. Thus, his act is a blend of glowing stand-up comedy with charming crooning, with guffaws and slams at the naughtiness in the spectrum of politics.

Ten take-aways from the giddy fun:

1 – Rainbow lives up to his self-acclaimed hype as the queen of political parodies. He is undoubtedly gay to the max, and is proud and out and simply sells his brand with flair and finesse. He’s simultaneously witty and gritty and he eloquently and occasionally speaks French (f-bombs and s-words galore), delivered in the spirit of entertaining fun.

2 – He’s a clothes horse, trotting in wearing a handsome and glittering black tux, accessorized with a mammoth pink feather boa, with glittering pink shoes; he exited in a chic pink suit adored with his trademark pink eyeglasses. In-between, he changed outfits several times, including a pajama-like number with a flowing and matching silk-like robe.

The many faces of Rainbow, in this video clip from his show.

3— A Broadway musical fan from small-kid time, he’s adopted many tunes from a roster of hit shows to hand-pick songs to suit his needling goals. Clearly, he’s the master of his craft, a brilliant lyricist with a knack to make each parody a mini-movie, complete with multiple voice-overs and choreography.

4 –Based on his numerous darts on Donald Trump, he likely helped Orangeface become the president. On his usual home front – the internet – Rainbow has been kingpin, demonstrating a keen representation of style, slams and silliness. Thus, weaving in his earlier clips was vital to complement his live show.

Donald Trump is Randy Rainbow’s favorite target.

5—He’s quite a name-dropper, familiar with the political wizards as well as the snakes. The targets included Ivanka, Jared Kushner, Donald Jr., Giuliani, Hawley, et al.

6—He’s unafraid of working in words like vagina  and penis (in reflections of Trump’s infamous revelation of itchy fingers and size) in adult-aimed shots, and he also is precise in picking out specific truisms of politics, like his funny line about Mitch McConnell’s neck nearly swallowing his face, and Kellyanne Conway’s coining of her  incredible slogan, Alternative Truth. What dat?

7—In unreeling his parodies, Rainbow is a fierce multi-tasker — interpreter, lyricist, commentator, vocalist, educator. You may think he’s biased against the GOP, but his bits with Dr. Fauci and President Biden show he can geev ‘em to Democrats, too.

8 – He’s a smart pitchman; periodically, he paused to promote his biography and accessories (pink glasses, posters, etc.). Like a rock star or Broadway show, he knows that merchandising matters in bringing in moolah.

9—His brilliance is undeniable, delivered with joyous glee, in such segments like “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea” (from “The Sound of Music” dealing with Trump’s fondness of Kim Jong-Un) and “The Very Stable Genius” (based on “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” from “Pirates of Penzance”) questioning the leadership of the dubious MAGA leader.  Oh, and that visual of Vladimir Putin alongside the Trumpster was a howl — a Ritz cracker photo-shopped over the face of the ex-pres.

Rainbow said he’ll be eyeing a presidential run, anticipating a Trump bid again.

10 –He’s ready to run for president, or so he announced (with tongue in cheek) about an intended bid in anticipation of the Trumpster’s campaign to be on the ballot in 2024 (legal complications notwithstanding). Rainbow simply will be watching The Donald’s shenanigans to watch for material to resolve the drought of new clips while he’s been on tour…

And that’s Show Biz. …

MUSICAL ASKS: A YULE MINUS SANTA?

Just in time for the Christmas holidays, a new, original musical about a dilemma facing Santa Claus, premieres at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Dec. 3) at Mamiya Theatre on the St. Louis School/Chaminade University campus.

Entitled “The Year Christmas Was Almost Cancelled,” the family-friendly show is produced by Mo‘olelo Studios with a pair of veteran local theater names — Kyle Kakuno and Roslyn Catracchia –collaborating artistically. He scripted the show and is directing, she composed the musical score featuring 10 songs.

“What if we wrote our own Christmas show?” Kakuno asked Catracchia during a phase of pandemic, when they had ample time to consult. “The script evolved over the last year, and the pandemic provided us time to meet and create the show, because everything (referring to the local stage shows) was shut down.”

Kyle Kakuno

“We wanted to bring something new and fun for the families this Christmas – especially after the cancellation of live events due to the pandemic over the past couple of years,” said Kakuno.

Catracchia agreed, “Hawaii needs something joyful and exciting. Kyle and I have been working together for over 30 years, so – after having no productions for the past two years – it’s been refreshing and a total blessing to be working on a brand-new holiday musical together for our island families.”

The story takes place in Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, where a sobering thought emerges: What if there is no Christmas?

Mrs. Claus is the first to recognize the possibility that there could be no Santa at Christmas, since he is ill and his doctor mandates three months of rest and recuperation.

Roslyn Catracchia

The story themes resonate with elements of hope, faith, wellness, giving and the spirit of can-do. The underlying tone – if you become ill, there’s always the consideration that you refrain from doing things in your life — is not verbalized but implied and it’s a realistic message all should adopt.

Matthew Pedersen plays Santa; he is the lone Actor’s Equity union member in the cast and has Broadway creds, including “Miss Saigon.” Callie Doan is Mrs. Claus.

Kakuno, the drama honcho at St. Louis for two decades, has resigned from teaching but still is affiliated with Saint Louis and Sacred Hearts Academy, which have been the foundation for casting roles. The cast includes Poasa Aga, Isaiah Castillo, Christopher Casupang, La Tanya Faamausili- Siliato, Sanoe Harris, Ka’ulani Iaea, and Samuel Tafolo as Santa’s faithful elves. The actors range from fifth graders to high schoolers and collegians.

Kakuno and Catracchia also were artistic collaborators at Honolulu Theatre for Youth, and she is widely known as the composer for the late Lisa Matsumoto’s stable of pidgin-English musicals, which parodied fairy tale figures in a local-style retelling.

“It’s always terrifying when your work gets a public viewing for the first time,” said Kakuno. Some of his dialogue recurs in a few of Catracchia’s melodies. He said they both perused the script and she would say “I see a song here, a song there,” and thus was born the score.

Among the tunes to expect: “Sweet, Sweet Snow,” sung by Mrs. Claus to the man in red, and “Christmas Magic,” sung by the ensemble contemplating the notion that there would be no Christmas magic if there’s no Santa.

The show’s producer, Mo‘olelo Studios,  is a wing of KaiHonua Entertainment, which last year took over the operations of Mamiya Theatre, where Kakuno had a relationship for 22 years directing all of the school’s stage productions ranging from “In the Heights” to “Footloose.”

Kakuno said, “Long story short, the president of KaiHonua Entertainment is Kainoa Jarrett, a former student of mine and my stage manager over the years.” The company specializes in providing tech support in audio and lighting equipment. So the outsourcing of the theater continues to have links with the longtime director, who now is manager of Mamiya Theatre and artistic and managing director of KaiHonua.

Kakuno anticipates that the launch of ‘The Year Christmas Was Almost Cancelled” this season could be tweaked, edited and nurtured to possibly become a recurring holiday attraction in the future. Indeed, it could be the gift that keeps on giving during the Yuletide. …

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“The Year Christmas Was Almost Cancelled”
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 18.

Tickets: $20 for adults, $15 for students, at www.moolelostudios.com

Extras: After each performance, there will be entertainment, food and drinks including s’mores, hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies, Santa photo-shoots. and a snow and light show.

And that’s Show Biz. …

CAAN ON ‘ALERT’ IN RESPONDER SHOW

Scott Caan, who was Danno in the rebooted “Hawaii Five-0,” is one of the co-stars in Fox’s first responder drama, “Alert,” premiering Jan. 8, following an NFL game.

Its regular slot will be Mondays at 8 p.m., beginning Jan. 9.

Caan will portray Jason Grant, partnering with Dania Ramirez as Nikki Batista,  in the drama where minutes and time matter. The show will boast a tagline, “For the Missing Persons Unit, Every Second Counts.”

Thus, Caan the actor still will be a cop in the Missing Persons Unit with the Philadelphia Police Department.

Scott Caan, Dania Ramirez will co-star in Fox’s “Alert” first responder series.

While the procedural will explore hunts for missing kids and adults, a parallel thread will be part of the story, since Jason and Nikki’s quest to locate missing people includes an alert to discover a long-lost missing son of theirs.

Each episode on Fox will air the next day on Hulu…

The masquerade continues

Ben Crawford is the Phantom.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” the longest-running Broadway musical ever, has postponed its planned Feb. 18 closure. Instead, the show – with that majestic chandelier and that mystical and magical masquerade scene –  has been extended to April 16 at the Majestic Theatre.

It’s not surprising, however, since the show has been attracting audiences with box office grosses like a new hit; some want to see the production one more time, others want to catch the real McCoy for the first time. When the throngs are recurring, and expanding, it would be madness to shut down operations.

Ben Crawford and Emilie Kouatchou are the Phantom and Christine, respectively, in the current cast. …

Broadway grosses, week ending Nov., 27

“The Lion King” roared into second place in the ranking of Broadway shows, for the week ending Nov. 27.

“King” logged $2.674 million, nudging “Hamilton” to the No. 3 slot, with $2.613 million.

No. 1, not surprisingly, continues to the “The Music Man,” with $2.865 million.

As mentioned above, “Phantom” with ts music of the night has upticked to $2.241 million, after announcing new closing dates, a skosh behind”Wicked,” with $2.320 million.

The listing is courtesy The Broadway League. …

And that’s Show Biz. …

RECCA: NOT YOUR EVERYDAY JOE

Joseph Pekelo Kekipi Bright Recca, a beloved entertainer with the voice of an angel and an impeccable Hawaiian historian, died Nov. 18 at Queen’s Medical Center.

He was 76 years old.

Recca had been wrestling with throat cancer for more than a decade and spent much of the last few months  under hospice care. He was transferred to Queen’s a few days before his passing.

Throat cancer silenced this brilliant vocalist, who hadn’t had real food for more than a year, sustaining only on IV fluids. Yet his mind was quick, and his heart was strong enough for him to endure the irony of not fully utilizing his given talent: that voice.

He was a man of many talents with a swagger that was wholly his brand. He spoke and read Hawaiian, graced the stages of Waikiki and the Neighbor Islands and owned the spotlight as an emcee and singer.

Joe Recca

Indeed, he was not your everyday Joe.

How well you knew him depended on how you addressed him: Joseph, Joe, or  Pekelo.

I last saw him in all his glory, three years ago, at the 50th anniversary bash of Tihati Productions, his employer for much of the five decades, which also was the occasion for his final bow, though at that time, he was as fit as a fiddle.

Only Pekelo would have three different outfits for a gala – one for cocktail hour schmoozing, one for the hoopla, and one for pau hana going-home gear. Despite his personal health issues, he demonstrated that the-show-must-go-on demeanor.

A celebration of life will be produced by Cha Thompson, co-founder and former vice president of Tihati Productions, from noon to 3 p.m. Jan.29 at the Ainahau Ballroom of the Princess Kaiulani Hotel, where he set anchor in the Tihati revue as emcee and male vocalist, for 15 years, partnering with soprano Patricia Lei Anderson (now Murray), the prevailing musical duo in their heyday.

Joe Recca and Patricia Lei Anderson Murray, acclaimed Tihati Productions duo.

No one knew Pekelo better than Thompson, who had distant familial ties with Recca though they acted like they were bona fide blood relatives.

Thompson always called Recca “Pekelo,” Hawaiian for Peter, one of his formal given names commonly used by his intimate show biz buds.

“Our relationship of boss-employee, braddah-sistah creators of Hawaiiian culture, started from high school, when he would come down the hill from Kamehameha School to Farrington just to talk story with me and my gang,” said Thompson. The Kalihi rivalry was mostly symbolic, Farrington being a public school that produced a long list of entertainment marvels, and Kamehameha perceived as a formidable private school virtually looking down from Kapalama heights onto the Farrington campus. Hence, the obvious competish.

But the feuds were fun and fueled a bond of shared responsibility since the pair grew up together as teammates in Tihati, shaping and growing the post-statehood visitor industry business in Waikiki, on Maui, on Kauai, and on the Big Island.

Young, creative and energetic, they both had the stamina to “travel the world together, with 30 to 40 entertainers, to share the magic of Polynesia,” Thompson said. “He, the emcee, me, the hula soloist-coordinator of the promotions; he, leading the charges, making sure that and monitoring the ‘Hawaiian’ section of Tihati Productions.” (Tihati is noted for its array of the Polynesian culture beyond Hawaii’s shores, including Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand and Tonga).

Recca’s interview in the Honolulu Advertiser, in which he discusses Haunani Kahallewai.

At his young age, fresh out of high school, he was performing with Haunani Kahalewai as one of her Royal Lads, at the Royal Hawaiian’s Monarch Room, while she was a featured hula dancer with Elaine Frisbie’s “Puka Puka Otea”  at the Queen’s Surf prior to founding Tihati Productions with her husband-to-be, Jack “Tihati” Thompson. Recca married hula dancer Shirley Recca, who had also performed in Tihati shows.

He learned show biz skills from Kahalewai, and adored her to the point of imitating her style, but she advised him be true to his own talents. He said in a 1977 interview that the Hawaiian superstar told him “Don’t be anybody but yourself. Be Joe Recca.”

He was on the brink of discovering his still budding fame, but he never forgot that tip.

 He initially became a Waikiki fixture as part of the ensemble cast of “Paradise Found,” a spectacle at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

But his signature show would be the one  at Ainahau Ballroom of the Princess Kaiulani, where he emceed the production and sang duets with soprano Anderson-Murray, a former Miss Hawaii who made it to the finals of the Miss America pageant..

While at the PK, Recca and Anderson also partnered in becoming the first historians leading a Waikiki historic trail walking tour, for the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Assn. under the tutelage of George He‘eu Kanahele, the late and notable Hawaiian historian.

He also sang with Marlene Sai and co-starred with hula stylist Bevery Noa at the Halekulani Hotel and assisted Nina Keali‘iwahamana when she was a regular with  Webley Edwards’ “Hawaii Calls” radio show originating from Waikiki.

A  little known fact about Recca is that he was prominent in his family’s religious profile as the Rev. Joseph Pekelo Kekipi Bright Recca,  the Hope Kahu (assistant pastor) of Ke Alaula Oka Malamalama, the mother church of Ho’omana Na’auao O Hawai’i, the first independent Hawaiian Christian organization in the islands, established in 1853.

He descended from a stream of familial ministers, starting with his great-grandfather, the Rev. John Kekipi Mai’a, who was also the founder of the church. Born and raised in the church, Rev. Joe had always been a part of ministers and the congregation, sharing his many talents, time, and of course, that beautiful voice of his. He was ultimately ordained as a minister by his mother, the late Rev. Regina Bright Recca in 2004. Since then, he served as the assistant pastor of Ke Alaula Oka Malamalama with his sister, the Rev. Bettina Moanawai Recca, who is the head pastor of the church and organization.

In the Hawaiian community, Recca was an established storyteller of stories and sermons, and his life reflected his faith in God and aloha for all. After he was unable to perform because of his cancer, he served as a Hawaiiana consultant for Tihati.

Another “insider” reflection that typified the Recca-Thompson friendship: “Did I say that he had allure about him that made him stand out?  He was a real gentleman,” said Thompson because of supreme manner. “He insisted I learn to laugh like a girl, minus the ‘deep loud roar,’ as he called it. He kept saying ‘You can do it, Cha, you can do it,’ and I would say but why would I want to (change her laughter). I nicknamed him ‘The Baron,’ and we knew the good, the bad, and the ugly about each other.”

He never stopped challenging Thompson to improve her Hawaiiana knowledge, when they both took nighttime classes in Hawaiian language at Kamehameha.

Recca helped launch Tihati’s Polynesian show at the Hyatt Regency Maui 42 years ago, which remains the company’s longest-running vehicle in the same venue. “He inspired our other emcee-singers,” said Thompson, since he became the model of emceeing  under the Tihati umbrella, including Francis Kamahele, who became that show’s eminent singer-host who also was a pastor in his other life. Other Tihati emcees who learned from Recca include Kale Chang, Sia Tonga, Ryan Souza, Sam Kapu III and Hoku Damaso

The celebration of life event will feature performances by  Karen Keawehawai‘i, Nina Keali‘iwahamana, Taimane, Kimo Alama, Melveen Leed, Makana and his sisters-, Ku‘uipo Kumukahi,  Jerry Santos, Patricia Lei Anderson Murray and family, Raiatea Helm, Kealoha Kalama, Aaron Sala, the Waimanalo Sand Band, Nalani Keale, and Leimomi Ho.

Four emcees — Brickwood Galutaria and Kimo Kahoano, alternating with Mele Apana and Davey D – will share the mike.

The house band will feature Ha‘alilo, Chuck Tilton, Vicky Hollinger, Kawika McGuire, and Aisley Haleamanu.

Recca’s sister, the Rev. Bettina Recca, will present the sermon.

Besides his wife Shirley, immediate survivors include their two daughters, Elan and Delys Recca, and one grandson, Andrew.

And that’s Show Biz. ….