How do you spell fun? Try M-A-N-0-A-V-A-L-L-E-Y-T-H-E-A-T-R-E.

Hawaii’s off-Broadway theater group, Manoa Valley Theatre, has temporarily forsaken its cozy performing space in Manoa to stage “The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee” at a larger venue at Kaimuki High School now through June 27, and the move is W-I-S-E.

With social distancing protocals, the seating space is not fully utilized, though with larger potential audiences, MVT has enabled this competent and charismatic performing ensemble to reach out and touch spectators in a more cavernous site. It might be a disadvantage for the piece, since intimacy is sacrified, but the location at a bona fide school gives the material more relevancy.

“Bee” cast, from left: Nick Amador, Hailey Akau, Moku Duran, Ellie Sampson, Malachi McSherry, Bailey Barnes; rear, Garrett Taketa, Rona Lisa Perretti, Austin Sprague. Photo by Brandon Miyagi.

The premise of the musical involves six diverse kids (played by adults) competing in the rituals of a spelling bee, with two adult moderators and a comfort counselor who are joined –in a rare instance of four walk-ons not previously cast, though pre-chosen 48 hours before curtain time to allow for pandemic clearance — to compete in the fray in spelling out words, asking for definitions and also requesting the word to be used in a sentence.

For the record, the four “guest” contestants wear a face masks; the others don’t. The competitors also wear random numbers, an assumption they’ve already beat other spellers in unseen preliminaries.

It’s all about the ritual of growing up, finding your niche in life, with someone victorious by the final curtain.

I saw the show, which opened in 2005 at the Circle in the Square basement theater on Broadway, and it requires the actors to possess eccentric idiosyncracies to reflect the spectrum of life. Some elements are real, others a skosh contrived, but the mix is what makes the show curious and contagious: we can connect with our middle school years.

The contestants are Nick Amador as Chip Tolentino, a seasoned Boy Scout, who suffers from sinus and cannot control his erection; Bailey Barnes as Logainne “Schwarzy” Schawarandgrubeniere, who has two dads, both gay; Malachi McSherry as Leaf Coneybear, who is both frenetic and awkward; Moku Duran as William Barfee, who spells by tapping out alphabets with his feet; Hailey Akau as Marcy Park, an overachiever who speaks six languages, who has managed to skip two grades, but is a virgin; and Ellie Sampson as Olive Ostrovsky, who has to catch the bus to the bee since her mom is in India for spiritual reasons and her dad’s at work and unable to pay the $25 bee fee.

Cassie Favreau-Chung as Rona Lisa Peretti, the announcer; Austin Sprague, as vice principal Douglas Panch, the other announcer; and Garrett Taketa, as Mitch Mahoney, the comforter; are the adults.

Some antics are absurdly funny, like the veep who keeps mispronouncing Barfee’s name as Barfait, as in parfait; and Barfee’s practice of footsieing his way through his spelling.

Some lulls in the action might be flaws in the book by Rachel Sheinkin, from a concept by  Rebecca Feldman, and for a musical, William Finn’s music and lyrics never quite achieved sing-along status.

Still, director Michael Ng provides the glue to keep everyone in tow, giving credence to this segment of academics, and Darcie Yoshinaga’s musical director and choreographer Dwayne Sakaguchi provide occasional moments of hilarious movement to augment the awkwardness of teen spellers.

The moral: not everyone wins in life, and not many are stellar spellers.

MVT’s production is timely, in that Disney will soon be releasing a movie version of this minor work, which likely will attract a major audience on film.

Remaining performances: 3 p.m. today (June 20), 7:30 p.m. June 24 and 25, 3 and 7:30 p.m. June 26, and 3 p.m. June 27.



You missed a sparkling gem, if you didn’t tune in to PBS’ retelecast of the 25th anniversary of the “Les Miserables” milestone concert at O2, last night (June 13) on TV.  The mammoth Brit arena was converted into a massive stage to celebrate the show’s enduring popularity…originally in 2010.

Nonetheless, the screening stirred memories and recalled what an astounding score Alain Boublil and and Claude-Michel Schonberg created, based on the Victor Hugo novel. Simply, “Les Miz” is a show for all seasons — never out of fashion.

PBS first aired this one in October 2010 and the show remained a snapshot of a theatrical giant, whose popularity has not declined an iota.

The stellar cast brought back that galaxy of theatrical luminaries, significantly and resourcefully relying on the words and music that have made “Les Miz” a powerful evergreen. The actors donned costumes but let the poetry and poignancy of the score to re-tell the saga of the jailed protagonist who stole bread to feed his family and stalked by an irrepressible policeman who made it his life’s work to right what he felt was wrong.

With a cast of more than 300 and an orchestra that sounded like 300 and a chorus of extras donning T-shirts displaying the familiar face of little Cosette, “Les Miz” was pure theater.

Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean

Consider the who’s who in the ranks:

  • Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean. A stunning tenor, who owned “Bring Him Home.”
  • Norm Lewis as Javert. A powerful presence, with a conflicted agenda.
  • Lea Salonga as Fantine. A gem from the get-go, delivering the role’s indelible “I Dreamed a Dream.”
  • Nick Jonas as Marius. A bit reserved, as the lone survivor of the war, but possessing the necessary youthfulness.
  • Ramin Karimloo, as Enjolras. A booming voice, and “One Day More”/”Do You Hear the People Sing” are his one-two take-away anthems.
  • Samantha Barks, as Eponine. The love-stricken “boy” whose “On My Own” resonates the theme of sacrifice and commitment.
  • Katie Hall as grown-up Cosette. Her heart was full of love, with cheer to spare.
  • Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway, as the Thenardiers. Masters of the house, and masters of comedic hi-jinx.
  • Mia Jenkins as Young Cosette. Her “Castle on the Cloud” projected innocence and hope.
  • Robert Madge as Gavroche. His “Little People” exuded the feistiness of a young, reliable soldier.

David Charles Abell conducted the orchestra with grandeur and control, shepherding the mass choruses and legendary actors to march to a uniform drum.

The stage was devoid of sets like the show’s famed barricade or the signature turntable of a conventional production, so the audience had to toss in their imagination to fill in the blanks. And Gavroche’s death, a moment of awe, was not part of the theatrics.

Watching on TV, “Les Miz” felt like real theater, a habit that had been halted since the start of the pandemic 16 months ago. So in households galore, “Les Miz” was a welcome visitor and perhaps a means to jump-start a visit to a real theater in the near future…

Channel hopping

In the NCIS  TV universe, filming starts here today (June 14) on CBS'”NCIS: Hawai’i.” If you encounter those filming and catering vans across the city in the weeks ahead, it’s likely to be the cast and crew of the latest franchise in the NCIS family. To the show’s creators and actors and techies, welcome to the islands. May your stay be fruitful. See ya’ in the fall, when the Hawai’i brand starts sharing its glow to the rest of the world…

Meanwhile, in the California-based show; Barrett Foa (Eric Beale) and Renee Felice Smith (Nell Jones) will not return in “NCIS: Los Angeles” next season. Instead, Gerald McRaney (Admiral Hollis Kilbride), introduced this year, will replace them in season 13. …

And Eric Christian Olsen (Marty Deeks), captured as “L.A.” wound up season 12, will return to the CBS procedural along with on-screen spouse Daniela Ruah (Kensi Blye). However, Olsen has another TV production ahead during the off-time: “Woke,” which is filming its second season as Olsen as an exec producer. …

And that’s “Show Biz.” …


Kevin McCollum, an executive producer of the just-released “In the Heights” musical film, brings an island link to the summer’s first hit film.

McCollum, who earlier co-produced “Heights” in its Broadway incarnation, has had a New York career spanning 25 years. He has earned the Tony Award for Best Musical for “In the Heights” (2008), “Avenue Q” (2004) and “Rent” (1996).  In the upcoming Broadway season beginning Sept. 14, McCollum will be represented with “Six” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” two newbies on Broadway.

He also previously produced “Motown: The Musical,” “Something Rotten,” “Hand to God” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” on Broadway.

Kevin McCollum

His film credit this year will be the new vision of an old favorite, “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg.

McCollum was born in Hawaii, the son of Sue McCollum Gereben; she  appeared in “Hawaii Five-0” and was active with media groups including the Honolulu Press Club. …

Meaningful numbers

In the aforementioned “In the Heights,”  there’s a bunch of numbers for a hot lottery ticket, and the sum of $96,000 as the amount of the prize.

Jon M. Chu, who directed the film, has a particular interest in figures, so the 96,000 number is the title of the lavish water and swimming pool production number.

But New York Magazine’s Vulture wing also reports the background story on the lottery ticket number: 5-7-16-26-33.

Turns out Chu’s wife Kristin Hodge was hapax with their second son, the film was being shot, and as the director of “Crazy Rich Asians” shared this cooky series of reasons of why those figs were assembled: 5 is his wife’s birthday month; 7-16 is their daughter’s birthday; 7-26 is their anniversary date and also the due date of their son.

“When I showed my wife (the numbers), she was like, ‘You know our anniversary is the 27th, right? And the baby is due on the 27th,” he was quoted. But a few weeks after the shoot, the boy was born … on July 26, “so he had my back,” said Chu. And rightfully, the toddler was named Jonathan Heights Chu. Imagine the story he’ll share when he grows up. …

Fashion focus

Bruno Mars says his fashion muse is Cher.

Bruno Mars

Well, maybe he was kidding when asked whose style inspired him.

InStyle interviewed Mars, the superstar from Hawaii, and Mars credited Cher as his muse. The changed his mind and said he is his own muse.

Amusing? Maybe.

Mars is the inspiration behind his Ricky Regal lifestyle brand, named after his alter ego, and the Lacoste fashion house describes the Mars product thusly: “Inspired by a lust for life and an entrepreneurial Midas touch.”  It’s a luxurious but sporty line. …

The Emmy goes to …

The Honolulu Theatre for Youth, Hawaii News Now, and Ballet Hawaii were bestowed regional Emmy awards recently from the Northern California competition.

HTY’s TV show, “The HI Way,” earned three awards:

  • For Arts/Entertainment – Long Format: “Da Holidays: The HI Way” (NMG Network/HTY), Jason Cutinella, Katie Pickman, exec producers; Eric Johnson, producer.
  • For Arts/Entertainment – Long Format: “Pono: The HI Way.” Same creators.
  • For Informational/Instructional – Long Form content: “Racism: The HI Way,” episode eight. Same creators.

Hawaii News Now won three::

  • For Hard News Report – “On the Frontline: Honolulu EMS,”  KGMB/KHNL Hawaii News Now. Allyson Blair, reporter; Jonathan Suyat, photographer.
  • For Historic/Cultural – Long Format: “Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hoike,” KGMB/KHNL Hawaii News Now,” Guy Sibilla, Wendy Suite, exec producers; Mary Beth McClelland, producer; Josephine Kristine, director-editor; Kennedy Carson and Lacy Deniz, hosts.
  • For Spot Announcement/Campaign – “Ballet Hawaii’s #Arts Beyond Covid,” KGMB/KHNL Hawaii News Now/Ballet Hawaii. Pamela Taylor Tongg, exec producer; Stasia Droze Jost, producer-director-writer-editor; Deborah Glazer, producer-director-writer-editor…

And that’s “Show Biz.” …


Update: After this column was posted this morning, I got an email from Joe Moore, announcing yet another postponement of “The Sunshine Boys.” Thus, the following column has been revised.–Wayne Harada

For the second time since the pandemic shutdown began nearly two years ago, the production of “The Sunshine Boys” — which was listed in an email announcement from the Hawaii Theatre — has been delayed again.

New performance dates are June 16 through June 26…in 2022.

The comedy, by Neil Simon, will feature Joe Moore, Hawaii’s longtime most-watched news anchor on KHON-TV, and his one-time Army buddy, Pat Sajak, the host of the wildly popular syndicated “Wheel of Fortune” game show.

“Mighty kind of you featuring ‘The Sunshine Boys’ in today’s Show Biz column online…and I hate to disappoint, but for the second year in a row, the Covid pandemic has forced us to postpone the show for a year,” said Moore in an email. “Large gatherings are still not allowed under the state’s restrictions, so rather than perform the show to a widely spaced, one-third capacity audience who might might not feel comfortable in a large crowd yet,  Pat and I along with Greg Dunn, head of Hawaii Theatre, decided it best to postpone the benefit run as we want to raise as much money as possible for the theatre.”

Joe Moore

On a family note, the play also will mark the professional acting debut of Bryce Moore, son of the newsman. Bryce previously co-starred in “Under the Blood Red Sun,” a made-in-Hawaii film.

The supporting cast also will include Therese Olival, Robert Duvall, Jeanne Wynn Herring, Matthew Mazzella,  Bart DaSilva, and Robert Doan.

Moore and Sajak have frequently performed together on stage in Hawaii. Because one lives here and the other on the mainland, rehearsals are frequently done virtually.

Pat Sajak

Moore portrays Willie Clark and Sajak is Al Lewis in the play about the reunion of vaudevillian vets tapped by CBS to do a TV special. Willie Clark’s nephew (Bryce Moore) attempts to bring the duo together, but longstanding grudges and friction resurface, and the question of ageism raises doubt about whether the duo can succeed and mend the broken bridges of the past.

Rob Duvall, a multiple Po’okela Award winner, will direct.

Performances will be at 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, with additional matinee shows at 2 p.m. Saturdays, through June 27.

Tickets; $30 to $75, available at

Chai opens newest, KALO, with Hawaiian food

Chai Chaowasaree, owner-chef of Chef Chai’s, has opened a new restaurant, KALO: Hawaiian food by Chai’s, in the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel Waikiki Beach, at 400 Royal Hawaiian Avenue at Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki. Spada Bar and Restaurant previously occupied the site.

Chai Chaowasaree

KALO offers a range of Hawaiian small plates, side dishes and entrees including a Hawaiian sampler, pineapple lobster curry, grilled rib eye steak and oxtail soup, served from 4 to 10 p.m.

“I chose the name KALO because it honors one of the most important staple foods among native Hawaiians,” said Chaowasaree of taro, the iconic diet item among Hawaiians.

A breakfast menu – with variations of eggs and Portuguese sausage, pancakes, poke bowls topped with fried eggs, beef stew with rice – will be served beginning July 1 , from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Reservations: 931-6222…

And that’s “Show Biz.”…


“Forever Plaid,” a modest, nostalgic off-Broadway musical about a fictional four-part-harmony group, has been extended for four more performances (through June 13) at Diamond Head Theatre. Go see it, if you can; you’ll be forever glad.

The “Forever Plaid” foursome: front, Will Thomson as Sparky, rear, Tyler Devere as Jinx, Ryan Michel as Frankie, and Scott Fikse as Smudge. — Photo by Brandon Miyagi, courtesy Diamond Head Theatre.

It is the perfect confection for this ongoing pandemic, with a small  four-member cast, an orchestra of two, and one set against which four lads appear in sort of a dream sequence since they perished in a crash en route to a gig where they specialize in boy-group harmonics of the 1950s. The title alludes to the group’s fondness of plaid, and there are four of ‘em, and they idolize the Four Freshmen.

That’s all the subtext you need to know to enjoy this stroll down memory lane.

Tyler Devere appears as Jinx, Scott Fikse as Smudge, Ryan Michel as Frankie, and Will Thomson as Sparky, whose vocal ranges, when combined, result in sweet harmonics suitable for songs of the era, including “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “No Not Much,” “Rags to Riches,” and “Moments to Remember.”

As lovingly directed and choreographed by Andrew Sakaguchi, who played Smudge in a 1997 mounting of this bon-bon at the unlikely Waikiki restaurant-club called Hula Hut in 1997, “Forever Plaid” represents the naivete and niceties of a kinder, gentler time in entertainment.

Its flashback motif works, in this era of pandemic stress, and DHT’s revival is an opportune vehicle to move back into show mode, albeit with caution and safety. Masks are required for entry and watching, and social distancing protocols remain. The tradeoff is a feel-good feeling as you exit the theater.

The show, created by Stuart Ross, lowers the bar considerably in the production realm, but succeeds in keeping reality in check; DHT has a full slate of creative talent at play, without the overhead of an overblown product in a financially distressed time.

The four gents are genial and appealing, engaging in minimal but essential choreographics, which require some dancing feats but more hand motions and body action. Agility is a must, for a visually hilarious panorama of  3 minutes and 11 seconds of the antics during an Ed Sullivan Show, embracing such warm remembrances including Topo Gigio, my-name-Jose Jimenez, jugglers and accordionist, spinning plates and hula, Senor Wences and his hand puppet Johnny, in the host’s “really big shoe.”

Remaining shows: 4 p.m. today (June 7), 7:30 p.m. June 11, 3 and 7:30 p.m. June 12 and 4 p.m. June 13. Tickets: $22 at