Jo Pruden, often regarded as “The First Lady of Hawaii Theater” for her astonishing and admirable stage performances here, died Jan. 10 at her Mililani home following a long illness. She was 84.

She suffered a stroke in 2021 but was well enough to perform – alongside her husband Jip Pruden —  in “Love Letters” in December 2023, at the Brad Powell Theatre at The Actors Group in Iwilei.

It was to be her final appearance in a string of more than 100 shows in a brilliant career spanning 55 years of stagecraft magic.

Jo and husband Jip arrived in Hawaii in October, 1967 and by February, 1968, she was playing the lead in “Send Me No Flowers” at the Little Theatre at Schofield Barracks, a humble beginning of greatness to come.

“I have only praise for Jo’s consummate talent as an actor as many would agree,” said Vanita Rae Smith, a prominent director-producer here and a theatrical colleague of Jo for more than five decades. “She was always in tune with the heart and soul of each character.

“Together, we’ve done over a hundred events, stage productions. Readers Theatre and 30 Schofield Barracks 4th of July Spectacular.

“We performed in Germany, Belgium, Sacramento, CA and Charlotte, NC. We worked together each day for 13 years at Richardson Theatre (at Fort Shafter) where she managed my Army Community Theatre box office. I celebrate my best friends and ohana, Jo and Jip Pruden for 55 wonderful years.”

Indeed, Jo had a wonderful life, sharing her skills in her beloved theatrical life. Her credits and accomplishments were bountiful, beautiful and broad:

  • She amassed 18  Po’okela Awards, for perfomance excellence, from the Hawaii State Theatre Council.
  • She was honored in 2007 with HSTC’s Pierre Bowman Lifetime Achievement Award, which spawned a memorable acceptance quote she borrowed a line from “Love Letters,” “If acting is your passion don’t you dare stop doing it for the rest of your life.”
  • She was a notable isle talent on filmed-in-Hawaii CBS network television, logging 10 performances on “Hawaii Five-O” and five on “Magnum P.I.,” original versions shot here.
  • She inhabited 48 Readers Theatre shows at  Army Community Theatre, and after the ACT terminated stage events,  joined numerous  readings at the Pohai Nani retirement residence in Kaneohe, then four more plays at TAG when the series relocated town side of the Koolaus.
  • She did a tour of U.S. Army installations, doing shows in Germany and Belgium.
  • She worked for TV Guide here, but retired to manage the ACT box office, where Smith was manager and producer who oversaw a range of entertainment events .With her alliance with the Army theater and a compadre of Smith, Jo also had another gig — narrating 25 ceremonies of the Army’s annual 4th of July hoopla for 25 years at Schofield.

Jip and Jo Pruden, at her 2023 birthday dinner.

Shari Lynn Acebedo, longtime friend, recalled Jo’s first trip to New York City with her in 2010, with subsequent treks in 2013, 2015 and 2017. “Brad Powell and Brother Gary were there at the same time,” Shari recalled about the first trip, “and we were able to share some great times. “She hadn’t been to NYC until I suggested that we go. Here eyes were as big as saucers as we strolled down Broadway. Unbridled happiness! We loved to shop, see shows and eat. “

Jo was born and raised in Enterprise, Alabama, and her hometown name possibly inspired her enterprising acting career. She majored in Theater Arts at the University of Montevllo.

Jo’s tenure as a queen of drama embraced a swirl of community endeavors, at theaters large and small, on stages such as Army Community Theatre, Manoa Valley Theatre and its predecessor, Hawaii Performing Arts Company;  Diamond Head Theatre, and its predecessor, Honolulu Community Theatre; Kennedy Theatre, at the University of Hawaii, Windward Theatre Guild, Hawaii Theatre, Hawaii Pacific University Theatre, The Actors Group, Starving Artists Theater Company, Oumansky Magic Ring Theatre, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village; and several more.

A short list of her formidable credits include “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf,” “Agnes of God,” “Picnic,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Wolf,” “King Lear,” “The Trip to Bountiful,” “Doubt,” “August: Osage Country,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The American Dream,” “Nine,” “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” “Music Man,” and “Mame.”Besides her husband of 56 years, Jo is survived by  a sister, Jayne Pleasants, of Clayton, Georgia.

There will be no funeral service, but a celebration of life event is being planned for the afternoon of Feb. 18, specifics not yet known,  at Manoa Valley Theatre….


Iam Tongi, Hawaii’s first “American Idol” winner, is on the ballot for a People’s Choice Award.

He is vying, along with TV competition candidates, several from “RuPaul’s Drag Show,” plus candidates from “Dancing With the Stars,” “The Bachelorettes,” “The Golden Bachelor” and “That’s My Jam.”

Winners will be revealed on an NBC special, at 8 p.m. ET Feb. 18…

Vocalist Shari Lynn and keyboarder Jim Howard return to the Paradise Lounge of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, from 7 to 10 p.m. Jan. 13 and Jan. 27, part of her twice-a-month arrangement with the jazz club…

Broadway grosses, week ending jan. 7

All hail the king. Disney’s “The Lion King” roared to the top of the Broadway list, one of only two other shows on the elite $2 Million club.

The week’s Top 10 shows:

1 – “The Lion King,” $2,444 million.

2—“ Wicked,” “2,124 million.

3 – “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” $2,037 million.

4 – “ Hamilton,” $1,968 million.

5 – “Merrily We Roll Along,” $1,785 million.

6 – “ Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” 1,708 million.

7 – “ Aladdin,” $1,617 million.

8 – “MJ The Musical,”$1,569 million.”

9 – “Back To The Future: The Musical,”$1,374 million.

10 – “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” $1,335 million.

The complete list, courtesy The Broadway League:

And that’s Show Biz. …

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