READERS THEATRE MOVING TO TAG

Windward Readers Theatre, a fixture at Pohai Nani retirement residence in Kaneohe for many years, will launch its 9th Readers Theatre season Aug. 8 at a new location, the Brad Powell Theatre at TAG, The Actors Group at the  Dole Cannery complex in Iwilei.

WRT, championed by the remarkably tireless director  Vanita Rae Smith and a booster of the Readers Theatre format, has played to intimate audiences for years.  Smith scheduled Readers Theatre for 12 years, which were Sunday afternoon sessions at the Army Community Theatre’s Richardson Theatre at Ft. Shafter, for 12 seasons, where Smith was artistic director of 24 years of musical theater successes under the auspices of the U.S. Army.

Vanita Rae Snith

The Readers format meant that elite and discriminating viewers would huddle on seats on the mainstage, where some of Hawaii’s legendary names would rely on the words of playwrights of works to bring drama to life, with listeners bringing their imagination to the plate.

Now the format will still be targeting readers and listeners alike, in the modest but effective TAG space. These theatrical Dark Night selections  — meaning attractions staged during the usual non-show evenings — will be embraced as part of TAG’s new season, with tickets at a modest $20 price.

Dwight Martin

The premier Readers Theatre vehicle at TAG will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – Aug. 8, 9 and 10 – with Dwight Martin, former Manoa Valley Theatre producing director, embracing John Barrymore, in William Luce’s “Barrymore” directed by Smith. The piece is filled with tension and surprises, surrounding the film and stage star, in the grips of advanced alcoholism, prepping for a production of “Richard III,” and reflecting on his multifaceted life, loves and legendary statue, a leading man on the brink of his last hurrahs.

“The last time we did a Readers Theatre at Pohai Nani was in March of 2020, and the auditorium there has been shut down since,” said Smith of the pandemic that closed nearly everything. “We didn’t charge an admission at Pohai Nani, and had a plate for donations, which went to them to cover expenses (of producing fees).

“Our new home at TAG will broaden the horizon of Readers Theatre, which are oral interpretations that fits the spirit at our new location,” said Smith, who has assembled  a slate of Readers Theatres scripts which amount to a legitimate “season.”

Also in the Readers Theatre agenda:

* Jo Pruden, portraying Lillian Hellman in  William Luce’s “Lillian,” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26, 27 and 28. Replaces an earlier-announced Bronte work. Directed by Smith.

* Alan Shepherd’s “Mary and Joe,” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4, 5, 10, 11, 12. Featuring Shepherd, Amy K. Sullivan, Christine Umipeg and others. Directed by Shepherd.

* Agatha Christie’s “Murder, Margaret, and Me,” at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23, 24 and 25. Featuring Jo Pruden, Shari Lynn and Eden Lee Murray. Directed by Smith.

*  “Sea Marks,” based on a memoir of Gardner McKay, at 7:30 p.m. May 29, 30 and 31, 2023. Featuring Annie Rennick and Peter Clark. Directed by Smith. …  

Dark Night Readers Theatre shows require an additional admission, apart from the fees of TAG’s weekend shows.

TAG’s 2022-23 season launches with David Lindsey-Abaire’s “Good People,” directed by Peggy Anne Sigmund,  opening  at 7:30 p.m. Friday (Aug. 5), with performances Thursdays through Sundays through Aug, 21 (2 p.m. curtain on Sundays). Tickets are $35 adults, $25 seniors and $20 students and military. Visit www.tagtickets@hawaii.rr.com or call (808( 722-6941. TAG requires viewers to don facemasks at all of its shows. …

Broadway grosses, for week ending July 31

The leaders still lead, in the roster of box office champs, but the dollars are fewer at least for now.

“The Music Man” still is No. 1, grossing $2.940 million, but not over the top of $3 million for much of its run to date. So Hugh Jackman is still the Money Man, too.

“Hamilton” again is No. 2, demonstrating it’s still a hottie in the room where it happens, pulling in $2.246 million.

“The Lion King” still has its roar, at No.3 and $2.166 million.

The list is courtesy the Broadway League. And note that the charts now show the rundown by grosses, not alphabetically. …

And that’s Show Biz. …

‘DEAR EDWINA:’ YOU’RE A WINNAH

Dear “Edwina” cast and crew: you’re a winnah, with so much heart and soul.


“Dear Edwina Jr.” – staged over two weekends, due to the cloud of COVID-19 which shut down performances after one show July 15 – returned with a vengeance, so to speak, at Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College. The remaining three shows (one on Friday night, two on Saturday afternoon) challenged the cast to wear face masks, an action not taken by any other theater cast here.

An ensemble of nearly 50 youngsters, who learned or improved their acting, singing and dancing skills in a summertime I’m A Bright Kid Foundation theater arts sessions, also discovered that the show cannot always go on as scheduled. In this case, the potential threat was the pandemic, which affected some kids and a few adult backstagers. Hence, there were other lessons learned.

The show, about a teen broadcast dispenser of advice for an audience of youths with a bundle of growing-up issues, radically did a turn-around, with the final three performances requiring the kids to don face masks for the safety of all, with only brief instances of unmasked solo singing.

I don’t recall any other local group hitting the stage with full cast masking during the pandemic, so the IABK gang outdid itself with an energetic booster shot of desire and determination, earning a deserved standing ovation at the finale I attended.

Bravo!

The “Edwina” ensemble, before face-masking.

The show, set in Michigan with music by Zina Goldrich and lyrics and book by Marcy Heisler, was a “junior” edition, meaning a curtailed production for a youth or junior cast. Edwina Spoonapple (Cleonice Hamm, splendid and  stunning), solicits letters from youths and shares her growing-up wisdom, like a teen Dear Abby. The formula embraces vibrant musical numbers – song and dance productions, the heartbeat of the show – tackling simple topics as where the silverware is placed in a dinner setting and matters of the heart.

Kids of all ages, looks and sizes converts “Edwina” into an island rainbow of talent, singing, somersaulting, radiating joyous pride, particularly in the “chorus” of line-ups, like a piggy number where many not just singing through their facemasks, but donning piggy wears, snout and tail. Oink!

A sane and simple tune, prior to the final curtain, reflects the IABK pulse:  “Sing Your Own Song” advocates the notion that everyone has a voice and should use it. “Don’t let them take away the music you’re made of,” is a thematic line, which reflects the core of believing in yourself and it’s OK to move to your own drumbeat, a teaching and learning point of the late director-teacher Ron Bright, who inspired this spirit in his quest to share and shape the notion that everyone matters.

Surely, these youths have heard about and learned theories of Mr. B, as he was known, and his fingerprints continue to live through his followers, backstage and onstage. Before each show, there’s a circle of prayer to unify and inspire; at the final curtain bow, all performers point upwards to the heavens to acknowledge the mentor and his impact.

A Bright tradition – a family member almost always exists in a Bright show – continues, with grandson Drew Bright (persistently cute, in voice and in manner) playing Scott Kunkle, a teen with his eyes on Edwina.  

Jade Stice, who directed the show, was a Bright kid growing up, continues to reflect Mr. B’s ways. The adult circle of educators involved include Moku Durant, music director; David Boyd, vocal director; and Alex Durrant, Lisa Herlinger-Thompson, and Annie Yoshida, choreographers; DeAnne Kennedy, set designer; Danielle Mizuta, costume coordinator; Chris Gouveia, lighting designer; Kingsley Kalohelani, sound engineer; and Allan Lau, production manager. Indeed, their collective skills and savvy helped create and shape this genuinely collaborative powerhouse of a kid musical. The staging is akin to a “graduation show.”

The summer program—which attracted youths from all over the islands– was supported in part by a grant from the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation.  “Edwina Jr.” was the first IABK live theatrical endeavor since the pandemic outbreak in 2019. …

And that’s Show Biz. …

JEFFREY IS ‘HAMILTON’S’ BEST SELLER

Jeffrey Seller, four-time Tony Award-winning Broadway producer, says that the outlook finally feels ripe and ready for fans and actors to congregate and celebrate theater.

Though the crippling pandemic that made life uneasy and challenging for nearly three years, “we who make our living in live entertainment are back, and  happy,” he said.

Seller, the producer of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” blockbuster, is in town to formally announce the launch of single ticket sales starting tomorrow (July 21) in Honolulu, in an unprecedented eight-week residency at Blaisdell Concert Hall.

Speaking by phone from his Halekulani Hotel room earlier today (July 20), Seller is hosting a press conference this afternoon at Blaisdell, interviewing two of the musical’s stars, Morgan Anita Wood (Angelica Schuyler) and DeAundré Woods (Alexander Hamilton) for the local media.

Jeffrey Seller, producer of the Tony-winning “Hamilton,” due for an eight-week Honolulu run.

He said the “Hamilton” run, from Dec. 7 to Jan. 29, 2023, reflects a commitment to enable show-hungry islanders to see the iconic show and be “in the room where it happens,” to quote a moment in the show.

“It’s a big commitment, but we are doing what Hawaii deserves –a long stop to share our show with the many folks in Hawaii,” said Seller. “Honolulu has a million people and is the 11th largest city (of the U.S.) and our show is special, the kind that comes around only once a decade, like a ‘Lion King’ and a ‘Wicked.’”


“The pandemic was horrendous for all of us,” said Seller. “We who make our living in live entertainment were in a coma for 18 months, and that included everyone, from stage hands, to office crews,  costumers to artisans who make all that stuff. But the Federal government came through for us in live entertainment, to keep live entertainment alive.”

The return, last September, was a little bumpy, with second-outbreaks of COVID 19, “and our new normal still includes a couple of COVID cases very day. But we’re prepared in New York, and  now all our shows are jammed, with full houses, and the business is coming back in all the cities we play across the country,” said Seller.

“I believe we all want to congregate, get together in live entertainment, and see a show, to laugh, clap together. It’s been so gratifying.”

Seller: “Things are a little bit more normal.”

Seller said that social distancing never was tried in the theater realm, “and there was no strong evidence that it would work. Masks were mandatory till the end of June,  with Broadway adopting the optional policy last July 1, “which seems to be operating smoothly, like the airline policy.”

The casualty of the pandemic is that no one is permitted (other than authorized cast and staff) backstage anymore. Fans waiting at the stage door now are greeted by some cast heading home, autographing, Playbills like the old days, some dodging the practice.

“Outside, things are a little bit more normal,” he added.

“Everybody has to handle themselves in these unique times, in the life of the Earth,” said Seller. “There’s panic in all four corners of the Earth, and from Europe to the West Coast, there have been the largest heat wave.”

Seller has logged an impressive career in the past 21 years. Now an independent producer, he was partnering with Hawaii native Kevin McCollum, in producing such properties as “Rent,” “Avenue Q,” and “In the Heights,” musicals that have earned Tony Awards. In the process, he befriended Jonathan Larson, the composer and book writer for “Rent,” a musical that earned four Tonys (Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Featured Actor in a Musical in 1996). Their collaboration in 2003 on “Avenue Q” resulted in three Tonys, for Best Musical, Book and Score in 2004.

When staging “Rent,”  he felt that tickets should be accessible for the young, and less affluent theater-goer, so he introduced “rush” tickets for the rock musical about Bohemian life in New York, with $20 tickets available for youths, sold through a lottery, for the first two rows of the Nederland Theater.

So when “Hamilton” came along, producer Seller and composer-performer Miranda wanted to rewrite the book on rush seats with Miranda pushing a $10 ticket (one Hamilton bill) in 2015, with flocks of 2,000 vying for 35 lottery seats at the reduced  cost at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

“Those were bedrock moments for me,” said Seller, because “everyone should get a ticket regardless of economic standing.”

So what and who comes first, the show or the producer?

“My decision to do a show is simply consequential,”  he said. “I do a show when I have to. In my career, it’s all about the pleasure of nurturing and fortifying and cheerleading a product that hits me on a visceral, emotional level.”

Like, it’s got to be inspirational, perhaps innovative, with something to say about life.

“Hamilton” fit the bill, because like its predecessor, “In the Heights,
 it featured hip-hop that spoke a new language to a new audience, and focused on language and rhythms of folks not commonly the centerpiece of a Broadway show, like Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics. Consequently, Seller is happily the show’s best salesman-seller, a hearty supporter of the needs and deeds of the show, and perhaps is the kind of booster shots every show needs. A caring, charismatic and committed producer.

So what and who comes first, the show or the producer?

“My decision to do a show is simply consequential,”  he said. “I do a show when I have to. In my career, it’s all about the pleasure of nurturing and fortifying and cheerleading a product that hits me on a visceral, emotional level.”

Like, it’s got to be inspirational, perhaps innovative, with someone with something to say about life. In short: there’s no manual on producing a show.

He said he’ll know when to shut down “Hamilton.”  “When it stops making money, we’ll close. When expenses are larger than income, it’s end of the business, like a restaurant.”

Seller has a project ahead he can’t mention yet, but his next production will be a new musical, “Only Gold,” with a score by Kate Nash and Andy Blankenbuehler ( from “Hamilton”) will direct; “It’s a dance musical, and a real passion project for Andy and myself,” he said.

Broadway, like any business, is all about making money.

“It’s all about capitalism, with supply and demand driving it, but in recent years, bots and computer programs have been able buy tickets quickly, and resold at (scalping) prices,” said Seller. …

Broadway grosses, for weekend ending July 17

As “Hamilton” tickets go on sale in Hawaii this week, it’s good to note that the show is the No. 2 grossing show last week on Broadway, with a tally of $2,255 million, with “The Music Man” still at No, 1, with $3.062 million; and No. 3 was “The Lion King,: with $2.130 million.”

The numbers are for the week ending July 17, courtesy The Broadway League:

And that’s Show Biz…

A SPECIAL ‘LES MIZ’ T-SHIRT NOTE CARD

Cleaning up some files today, I came across a small collection of notecards I created, to thank the cast of “Les Miserables,” which was a wowser and rouser at Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College in October, 2013.

This production likely to be Hawaii’s most astonishing accomplishment in local theater, directed, of course, by the late and legendary Ron Bright. It was Mr. B’s favorite show, part of a bucket-list of shows he wanted to do; “Phantom of the Opera” and “Miss Saigon,” which he also directed with his impeccable touch, completing his wish list.

The cast of “Les Miserables,” at Paliku Theatre, in October, 2013.

The notecards – in the shape of T-shirts – depict a Cosette-in-Hawaii motif.  The cards were meant to commemorate and thank the cast and crew of this stupendous show; and yes, did enough cards so each performer and techie received one on opening night

See, in many tour stops made by the official touring company of “Les Miz,” the iconic child that is the symbol of this enduring Broadway and London show, takes on the flavor of the city being visited. In Canada, Cosette had a flag with a maple leaf; in France, the French flag gets prime time; in Scotland, she might don a kilt. In Hawaii, it’s a hula skirt. And so on.

I took some liberties, borrowing the Cosette image and adding a local element. For one card, “Lei Miz” was the subtitle, because she was wearing a lei. In another, she is in hula pose, so I labeled it as “Lovely (Hula) Lady,” borrowing a tune from the show. The third card depicts Cosette with a surfboard and donning sunglasses, and an apt title: “Catch the waif.”  This was an official authorized trademarked image the first time the show played here.

Four specimens of the “Les Miz” noted cards gifted to the cast and crew.

I gave the images a splash of color, and each Cosette wears a hibiscus in her hair. Lei color varied, but red and yellow were prevalent, as I recall.

The show – loaded with music that speaks to a generation of theater players – featured a protagonist who delivers one of blockbuster ballads (“Bring Him Home”), neither he nor the song is promoted in the “Les Miz” annals.

So, I thought Jean Valjean’s prisoner number would be a code to his valor and vigor; did a limited number of cards that simply addressed his numbers: 24601

On the back of the T-shirt card, I expressed my appreciation for a job well done. And borrowed that show’s most quoted line: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

This expression of dedication and performance — the core of theatrical life — inspired Mr. B’s family and followers to create the I’m a Bright Kid Foundation to preserve and perpetuate his enduring spirit and inspiration. The journey continues.

CONCERTS BY THE SEA AT AQUARIUM

For the first time since 2019, when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down life and cultural events, “Ke Kani O Ke Kai,” the summertime musical festival at the Waikiki Aquarium will resume this summer.

The schedule:

  • June 30 – Makana, featuring Bobby Moderow Jr., Kawika Kahiapo and George Kuo.
  • July 21 – Kalani Pe‘a, with Hula Halau ‘O Kamuela.
  • Aug. 11 – Streetlight Cadence and Friends.
Makana

The oceanfront concerts will offer special dinners provided by island restaurant partners.

Those attending will also be able to tour the Aquarium galleries that will be open during the event. Guests should plan to bring mats and lawn chairs for seating on the grass, as well as blankets.

Seating will be tiered, with those sitting on mats on the grass lawn closest to the stage, with those with low chairs behind that group, and those will full-sized lawn chairs seated behind that group.

Because of on-site food vendors, outside food and drink will not be allowed.

Season tickets, including all three concerts, are available; individual tickets for one or two shows are available, at the Waikiki Aquarium website. …

Once Upon One Time’

Lisa Matsumoto’s classic pidgin English musical comedy, “Once Upon One Time,
 will be revived by Manoa Valley Theatre, beginning June 30 at the Kaimuki High School Auditorium.

Cast of Manoa Valley Theatre’s “Once Upon One Time,” playing at Kaimuki High Auditorium.

Matsumoto’s comedic take on familiar fairy tale characters is given a pidgin overhaul, so Snow White and Da Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Little Red Hiding Hood appear, singing and spouting da kine pidgin lingo, complete with the appearance of Da Mongoose and funny kine , kinda lolo menehune.

The late Matsumoto did da book and lyrics, and was known for playing Da Wicked Queen, but one new generation of performers will bring new vigor and veneer like you no can imagine. Da music is by Paul Palmore, with Roslyn Catracchio adding extra songs.

Performances going run through July 10 so no fo’get order da tickets at (808) 988-6131 or go visit www.manoavalleytheatre.com and can charge. …

‘Qualities of Starlight’

The Hawaii premiere of Gabriel Jason Dean’s play, “Qualities of Starlight,”
will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday (June 24) at The Actors Group’s Brad Powell Theatre at 650 Iwilei Road at Dole Cannery.

The story is about a couple visiting his aging parents in the Appalachian South, and discover the elders are meth addicts. Science collides with nature, with identity shifts and a cosmos no longer wondrous.

Director Alan Shepard is portraying Junior, Amy K. Sullivan is Rose, Matthew Miller is Theo and Christine Umipeg is Polly.

For tickets, call (808) 722-6941, or visit tagtickets@hawaii.rr.com or www.taghawaii.net

Broadway grosses, week ending June 19

“A Strange Loop,” a Tony-winning Best Musical, is making gains on the Broadway gross roster, but has a way to go; the leading productions have switched places on the weekly compilation, with “Hamilton,” grossing more than $2.2 million, surpassing the former No. 1 ticketing musical, “The Music Man,” which previously scored $3 million tallies, but dropping to $1.7 million and No. 2, with “The Lion King” roaring in at No. 2 with its $1.9 million gross.

The rundown, courtesy the Broadway League:

And that’s Show Biz. …