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, 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.
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, ,,,