HISTORIC 8-WEEK RUN FOR ‘HAMILTON’

“Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s highly anticipated musical that embraces hip-hop and rap to depict the  history and climate of the nation’s founding fathers, opens a historic eight-week run tonight (Dec. 7) at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

 The show — which has won 11 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), the Grammy Award for Best Musical, and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama –is the first Broadway musical ever to be booked for an extended run through Jan. 29. Most shows are in and out of town for two, maybe three weeks, so this is a biggie. Hope Hawaii supports this mammoth endeavor.

I have seen the show twice at New York’s Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway, once with the original cast that featured the beloved creator who did the book, music and lyrics.

I have fond memories of the first time, when Miranda was the lead. It was so difficult and expensive to secure tickets then, because of high demand and the frustration of elevated ticket prices. Long story short: I had to pay $750 per ticket ($1,500 for a pair) and the seats were in the second-to-the-last-row in the balcony, where you almost could touch the ceiling!  But worth it, what with the anticipation and expectation of a high-profile show.

My second visit was in Chicago, when local boy Joseph Morales was portraying the Sunday matinees at the Private Bank Theatre (now renamed). He since has assumed the Hamilton role in an ongoing national tour for nearly three years, criss-crossing the U.S. and earning hurrahs, before the pandemic and since all theatrical shows resumed tours.

The third time was again in New York, when Big Islander Marc delaCruz was in the ensemble and understudying the Hamilton and other roles before the pandemic.

Here’s the rub: Wherever you sit or whomever plays the title role, it’s highly likely you’ll be charmed.

DeAundre Woods is “Hamilton.”
Joan Marcus photo

The show has been a leader in diverse casting, with Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and others singing and dancing among white actors. Don’t be stunned if George Washington is an African American.

In the production here, DeAundre Woods will play Hamilton.

And if you think you’ve seen “Hamilton,” since you watched that luscious and revealing filmed version on Disney+, you really haven’t. Like the promos airing on TV say, to truly appreciate the show, you have “be in the room where it happens,” meaning in a theater. The film had bonuses of close-ups and aerial shots, but theater means being there in the flesh.

I will be taking in three performances here, for different reasons; I’ll attend a media performance on Thursday (Dec. 8), and also on Saturday (Dec. 10 is my season ticket slot). But I’ll be in the room where it happens again on Dec. 21, when I’m inviting my nephew, who will be spending Christmas in Hawaii, on a break from his Army duties at Ft. Bragg, N.C.


Some general advice and tidbits, for first-timers at the show:

  • Get acclimated in advance to the cadence and rhythm of the hip-hop raps. If you saw the Disney film, great; you know the flavor and tempos. If not, secure a CD to listen to the numbers before attending. In other words, prepare for your investment in tickets and time.
  • This visiting cast is dubbed “And Peggy.” That’s the name of the tour, with other companies also boasting a different code name.
  •  There’s a marvel of techie stuff on the single set, which has multiple movements to fit the needs; all shows (assuming And Peggy, too) utilize a turntable revolving stage that’s part of the choreographic modes.
  • King George (a delightful character) appears in the show twice, so his big number, “I’ll Be Back,” rings true. FYI, his crown weighs 2 ½ lbs. and conceals his mike. You’ll adore him.
  • A catwalk will fly in-between acts, so if you’re in the house, look for this set installation. Be in the house when it happens.
  •  “Hamilton” is the lone show, one of four in the Broadway in Hawaii season, which employs mobile tickets for non-season sales. Season subscribers had “hard” tickets mailed to buyers; if you ordered via Ticketmaster or the Blaisdell box office, you’ll have to transfer your tickets to your mobile phone for entry. (Those without iPhones can complete ticketing at the box office on the night or day of the performance).
  • “Hamilton” has a special color for some costumes, including the lead actor’s coats, a tannish tone, dubbed “Hamil-tan.”
  • It takes 13 trailers (53 footers) to transit the show from one city to the next (not certain if those trailers moved via planes or boats).
  • Splurge a little before you exit; secure a souvenir of a memory you won’t forget. On Broadway, I purchased a T-shirt as well as a baseball cap with HAM inscribed…

And that’s Show Biz. …

‘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.

 *.  *   *


“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.

 *.  *   *

And that’s Show Biz. …

LIFE LESSONS FROM ‘WORDSWORTH’

HILO –‘Wordsworth, the Musical,” a musical fantasy about a poet mouse, is an unlikely resource that tackles life issues such as Alzheimer’s and caregiving, based on poet Frances H. Kakugawa’s two books popular among school children and family audiences faced with dilemmas and seeking comfort and support to turn frowns upside down.

The show made its world premiere last night (Nov. 4) at the Performing Arts Center at the University of Hawaii Hilo campus, after a three-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A core of devoted Big Island collaborators created the show, from previous experiences with Kakugawa, an award-winning poet who also has been an established speaker on AlzheimHer’s and caregiving, founded on her personal experiences of caring for her aging, ill mother.

Kakugawa is a former Kapoho native, who lived in Honolulu while working as an educator and poet. She currently resides in Sacramento.

The musical, playing again at  7 p.m. today (Nov. 5) and 2 p.m. tomorrow (Nov. 6), is a testament to Kakugawa’s work as a writer and a practicing caregiver.

The play focuses on the titular character, a poetry-writing mouse named Wordsworth, and his ‘ohana, living in a rainforest in Hilo. Portrayed by Kamau Beaudet (as the mouse poet, with mouse ears)  who is taunted by his peers because of his devotion to writing poems. When darkness and fears evolve, folks start listening to Wordsworth bring back the sun and the fun of life, and embrace poetry as a panacea of things hurtful and haunting.

Jackie Pualani Johnson as Grandma, Kamau Beaudot as Wordsworth

Jackie Pualani Johnson, who wrote the script and portrays Grandma – who becomes forgetful because of approaching Alzheimer’s in the story —  demonstrates that her failing memory affects everyone in the circle of life. Kids and neighbors ponder, about Tutu not remembering their names; and ultimately, the words and rhymes of Wordsworth are a rare gift, instrumental in recovery.

Wordsworth’s waltz number with Johnson is a high point, and kids will enjoy seeing him on surfboard with rocker-like “wheels” to mimic riding the waves. Another brief, but fetching moment, involves Jon Sakurai-Horita as Old Mouse, and Mia McGrath as Emily is a standout in the large cast.

Butterfly dancers

The show,  directed by Justina Mattos, runs a terse 50 minutes, so is an easy pill to swallow with numerous babes in arms and toddlers in attendance. Scenic designer Ariana Bassett’s vivid colors in the  primary set of forest greenery is appealing, and this rainforest boasts rain that resembles bright pearls, a recurring image of rainbows, plus a swarm of butterflies who contribute a variety of dances with impressive Monarch buttery wings while dancing ballet, waltz and modern numbers choreographed with flair by Kea Kapahua.

While not the custom in any rainforest, this one also includes a wing-ding of a circus crew, again in brightly-hued attire (by Lee Barnett Dombroski) reflecting roles of acrobats, clowns and frou-frou dancers.

Wendell Ing’s music taps several forms, including a do-woppish tune, and his lyrics are faithful to Wordsworth’s inspirational views. And there’s everything from a chant to rap, from hula to waltz.

There is one curiosity in Wordsworth’s delivery of lines – in the third person – which could easily be reimagined to make his words more meaningful and effective.
The opening night house had a jolt of sorts, when an errant warning with flashing lights informed spectators to rise and exit the theater, nullified by a voice that this was one of a recurring false alarms.

Tickets: $20 general, $15 UHH students with valid IDs, $7 children 17 and under.

Tickets: $20 general, $7 UHH students with valid IDs, children 17 and under.

And that’s Show Biz, ,,,

‘MUSIC OF THE NIGHT’ & MORE

“The Three Phantoms,” in a two-day visitation at the Hawaii Theatre, is more than three dudes uniting in songs for fellowship and fun.

The show, organized by Broadway vet Craig Schulman, opened last night (Oct. 29) and repeats at 2 p.m. today (Oct. 30).

Schulman, beloved in Hawaii for his two-visit performance as Jean Valjean in  “Les Miserables” back in the day, clearly is the centerpiece of the revue though his colleagues Gary Mauer and Keith Buterbaugh.  are singularly impressive. Together – in solos, duets and trios – The Three Phantoms (yep, they all have headlined as the masked marvel in their careers) put on a panorama of Great White Way tunes you know or have forgotten.

Over a splendid two-hour retrospective of  tunes from Broadway musicals performed by gents, the trio shared 18 songs, in an appealing stroll down memory lane that revived tunes rarely sung today. Schulman, Mauer and Buterbaugh are tenors, able to reach the upper-register notes, but Buterbaugh also has depth as a baritone. And these voices emphatically show that each actor is a leading player in the theatrical spectrum.

Craig Schulman

I loved the segments that featured awesome overtures/instrumentals, no vocals, including “Oklahoma,” rendered by a tireless and expressive six-member local orchestra featuring John Kolivas, bass; Abe Lagrimas Jr., drums; Todd Yukumoto, sax; Rick Broadwell, trumpet; and Monica Chung, synthesizer.

The show’s pianist-conductor Dan Riddle shaped a rhapsodic and awesome “Phantom” montage leading towards a trio delivery of “Music of the Night,” the highly anticipated ballad with shadings expected from a gang who’s been there, done that. This finale had comedic preludes as the guys feigned singing the tune solo during several false starts that were part of the scheme.

So what, among the numbers, were stunning?

Certainly, Schulman’s iconic signature, “Bring Him Home,” from “Les Miz,” rich with emotional wallop, bringing down the house. He is the actor who has played Valjean in 2,500 performances, the most ever by anyone, so yes, he “owns” the tune. A close second among his conquests: “This Is the Moment,” from “Jekyll and Hyde,” with its requisite roller-coaster vocal dynamics. Boy, his pipes are still sizzling-hot

Gary Mauer

Certainly, Mauer’s “Gethsemane” from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” embodied the intensity of the Jesus he played on stage.

Certainly, Buterbaugh is expressive medley from “Sweeney Todd,” a show he’s conquered earlier.

The threesome got good mileage from “They Call the Wind Maria,” from “Paint Your Wagon,” one of the rarely-heard-these-days treats.

Perhaps the “Brotherhood of Man,” from “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” underscored the mantra of The Three Phantoms; rapport comes from togetherness, bonding minds, hearts, and spirits. Consequently, “Standing on the Corner,” also a trio entry from “The Most Happy Fella,” reflected a similar sentiment.

Keith Buterbaugh

 The show’s format was logical: background show title templates were flashed, providing clues on what’s coming. And the tunes from each show must’ve required some curating; like, “Damn Yankees,” one of two encore ditties, focused on “You Gotta Have Heart,” a baseball-oriented tune that spills over into everyday life. Heart and hope matter.

The second encore, “White Sandy Beach of Hawaii,” was joyous surprise and the local-song-choice endeared the audience. The Three Phantoms know how to anchor a show!

Access to the Hawaii Theatre was difficult because downtown crowds gathered by the hundreds for a pre-Halloween street party, which blocked sidewalks and made access to parking garages a challenge. Folks attending today’s final matinee shouldn’t have barriers and blockage; the tricks were outside last night, but treats awaited inside…

And that’s Show Biz. …

WORDSWORTH: FROM POEMS TO PLAY

Frances Kakugawa, a life-long poet, author, teacher, caregiver and Alzheimer’s advocate, never imagined that her words and books would be resources for a musical play.

Thus, like a dream come true, “Wordsworth: The Musical” will receive its world premiere Nov. 4 at the University of Hawaii-Hilo campus theater. It’ll be a short three-day run.

“I was on cloud nine,” said Kakugawa, a Kapoho native who previously taught and authored poetry books in Honolulu. She now resides in Sacramento, and has been commuting to and from Hilo (with emails flying back and fourth) to collaborate and consult with the script writer, a director, a musical composer and a choreographer, to  shape the show, based on two of Kakugawa’s books, “Wordsworth the Poet”  and “Wordsworth Dances the Waltz.”

Frances Kakugawa

Wordsworth is a wise, fictional mouse whose wisdom, words and warmth have been reimagined from the printed page into a musical that resonates with island folks and life. He resides in a rainforest and shares a sunny disposition when things get tough.

Perceived and pampered since 2020, the book and the intent to transform it into a stage musical, survived the pandemic clouds and the sunshiny launch of “Wordsworth: The Musical” finally happens this fall.

“They (the production team) had involved me every step of the way; I felt so honored to be given such respect for Wordsworth,” said Kakugawa, speaking via phone from Sacramento.

So real is her zeal for the production, that her portfolio of the give-and-take script is aptly filed away under the title, “Off Broadway.” The Tonys may a far-off dream, but the tension of opening night is real in sleepy Hilo, a continent away from the Great White Way.

Wordsworth, the poet mouse.

In actuality, there already exists a digital performance of “Wordsworth,” translated in Hawaiian with a Hawaiian-speaking cast. This version targeted a Hawaiian-speaking community, and provided a template for the staged musical version, which is youth- and family-friendly, with many fetching Hawaiian surprises.

“When I saw the filmed version in Hawaiian, I wept and thought, ‘If I died tonight, I would have died happily,’” Kakugawa said.

“Wordsworth is a humble little poet, so he keeps me under wraps,” she continued. “He’s simply delighted that his poetry is being set to music and dance. He’s also pleased that they didn’t change his aloha shirt.”

The notion of birthing a musical is credited to Lizby, a health care worker in Hilo, who had earlier invited Kakugawa to speak on “Poetry and Caregiving.”

Liszby is Dr. Elizabeth Logsdon, known in the movie and stage costume realm, who had the instinct that the Wordsworth had characters and situations made for a musical, rich with relatable folks ranging from a youngster struggling to fit in with his peers to an aging and fragile tutu wahine. Plus plenty butterflies.

Justina Mattos, who is directing, said the play has 15 speaking roles, plus a small chorus of extra “neighbors.” Dancers are from an advanced campus class, serving as the dance ensemble.

Justina Mattos

Wordsworth is portrayed by Kamau Beaudet , who is a football player when he’s not acting. The cast also features
Ben Publico as Father and Amy Erece as Mother.
Jackie Pualani Johnson, who adapted the Kakugawa book for the book of the play, is cast as Tutu Wahine.

Big Island school groups will be taking in special matinee performances, prior to the formal debut, but these youth tickets sold out quickly.

“I’ve been told that teachers are reading the Wordsworth books with their classes, to prepare for their visit to the theater,” said Mattos.“I think having a musical that is rooted in a book makes it much easier to draw an audience. Young readers are already familiar with these characters and the world of Wordsworth.

“Mounting an original work for the stage is tricky because the team is creating everything from scratch. I think our creative team appreciated having the opportunity to try things out for video first, before doing a fully-staged production for live audiences,” said Mattos.

Jackie Pua Johnson, who scripted the play, wanted to capture Kakugawa’s spirit of the printed poetry, transferring that element to the script. “I wanted to keep the integrity of the sources– the nuances found in life in the rainforest, the interaction of the mouse community, familial connections, the rich poetry -— all the elements that Frances shaped that make Wordsworth so appealing,” said Johnson.

Jackie Pua Johnson

“It became obvious that I needed a style that paid homage to the books in their original form,” she said. “Ah! Rather than take the story line and do the usual job of creating a narrator and assigning lines to each character, I decided on a ‘reader’s theatre’ approach.  That meant that I would preserve every word Frances wrote and build Wordsworth’s world  in real time, right before the audience.”

The biggest challenge?  “Integrating the two books so neither storyline suffered from the melding,” said Johnson. “Since I left Francesʻ original text intact, it was the structure and juxtaposition of characters that I focused upon. I placed Grandma in Wordsworthʻs life from the very beginning, showing her joie de vivre, dancing with her moʻopuna at every turn and never wavering in her enthusiasm about how he processed the beauty of the world around him. It also seemed right for Grandma to speak her native language, so she peppers Hawaiian throughout, as real tutu wahine do in our lives. I worked hard to give a sense of place, too, because the rainforest is both sacred and magical for the characters, a place where nature appears in all her glory and love and friendship heal and rejuvenate.  Again, just like wao kele in real life.”

Choreographer Kea Kapahua staged the dancing in the digital version as well as the stage musical, acknowledging each medium is different from the other.

Kea Kapahua

“Choreographing for a musical is much different than choreographing for a dance concert,” she said. “It’s a different kind of a collaborative process. In a dance concert the dances are the main focus. In a show like ‘Wordsworth,’ dance plays an important and delightful but supportive role in bringing out the storyline. The dance is not the end-all, but a way to help the audience connect with the narrative.

She continued, “When choreographing for film you are always viewing everything as if through the eye of the camera lens and thinking of angles and what you might want to highlight or frame for the viewer.” On stage, the choreography needs to blend with Wordsworth’s imagination and creativity to life, “to make visible what he sees for the audience,” she said.

For composer Wendell Ing, the task was to create songs from poems. “From having been music director for many theater productions through the years, I had definite ideas about how I wanted to approach composing this music,” he said.   “I wanted to stay true to her (Kakugawa’s) text and the underlying feelings.  To compose music to fit the poems, not vice-versa.  There is more repetition of phrases and a different narrative flow to most songs.  Poems are often more elliptical. I wanted to preserve the natural beauty and flow of her poems.”

Wendell Ing

The lyrics, he said, shouldn’t be his but should reflect the characters.

“Since this was a children’s musical, that constrained some of the musical choices and styles,” said Ing.  “I wanted to create music that was melodic and pretty, but not overly complicated.”  

The score features six main tunes and more than a dozen underscores suiting different scenes. Being an islander, Ing wanted to enrich the show with island traditions tapping keyboards, ukulele, bass and flute.

And he created varying moods. “My particular favorites are ‘Of Sand Sea,’ a personal ballad sung by Wordsworth; ‘Circus Time in the Sky,’ sung by Kolohe Brother, which is the most bombastic and visceral; and ‘Rainbow,’ a group song that is the happiest.”

He added: “Yes, I read both Wordsworth books before I composed the music, to get a feeling for her poetic style,which is fairly direct and imagistic.”

And that’s Show Biz. …

‘WORDSWORTH: THE MUSICAL’

Playdates: 7 p.m. Nov. 4, 7 p.m. Nov. 5 and 2 p.m. Nov. 6.

Where: Performing Arts Theatre, University of Hawaii-Hilo.

Tickets: $20 general, $15 seniors 55 and older, faculty, staff and alumni; $7 UH Hilo and Hawaii Community College  students and students 17 and under.

Where to buy: https://hilo.hawaii.edu/depts/theatre/tickets/