The final weeks of February will provide Maui theatergoers with the chance to see revivals of some of the most beloved shows in Broadway history.
ProArts opens its first production of 2013 this weekend with “Lend Me a Tenor.” The immensely popular farce has been translated into 16 languages and produced in 25 countries since its opening in London’s West End in 1986. If you’ve never seen the show before, prepare to laugh – a lot.
Reminiscent of a 1930s screwball comedy, it revolves around renowned tenor Tito Merelli (John L. Mendez), known to his fans as “Il Stupendo.” Merelli is scheduled to sing the lead in “Otello” at a gala fundraiser for the Cleveland Opera Company. Chaos ensues when Merelli’s wife, Maria (Jennifer Rose) mistakes a sexy young autograph-seeker (Sharleen Lagattuta) hidden in his closet for a secret lover. Maria leaves Tito a “Dear John” letter, and the distraught Merelli is accidentally given a double dose of tranquilizers to calm him. Now completely passed out, the company’s general manager, Saunder’s (Mark Collmer), determined that the show must go on, asks his assistant, Max (Tom Althouse), to impersonate the opera star. What follows is a Marx Brothers-like chain reaction of mistaken identity, farcical plot twists, double entendres, and constant entrances and exits.
On Broadway, “Tenor” received nine Tony Award nominations and won for Best Actor and Best Director. The ProArts production also stars Barbara Sedano, Lee Garrow, and Kristin Jones.
I interviewed Southern California transplant Jones, last seen in ProArts’ “Doubt,” and asked what brought her to Maui.
“My husband used to live on Maui and he always wanted to move back. I was in between jobs and the timing was good. I had no intention of acting, but then I stumbled upon ProArts,” she explains.
Jones is classically trained, and upon graduation from college she headed to Los Angeles. She shared her L.A. experience.
“I did the auditions, looked for an agent, things like that,” she recalls. “Being trained in theater, I was not prepared for the movie and TV world.”
Jones returned to school receiving her master’s degree in playwriting, but frustrated without a steady income, she became a teacher. Jones currently teaches at Kamali’i Elementary School. I asked her, as a newcomer, what the biggest challenge is for Maui theater.
“From what I’ve seen, the audiences prefer straight ahead comedy and musicals. There’s not as much variety with dramas and avant garde theater that you find elsewhere,” Jones says.
Most of Jones’ stage experience is in heavy dramas.
“I think I’m more drawn to drama,” she said. “Dramatic roles are more familiar to me, and that makes me more confident.”
So how does she tackle the absurd “Tenor”?
“Comedy is more difficult. They’re (comedy and drama) both a lot of fun, but in different ways. It’s (“Tenor”) wild and crazy and I don’t think anyone would go see it and not laugh.”
* “Lend Me a Tenor” by Ken Ludwig, directed by Lisa Teichner, opens Friday at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Reserved seat tickets are $20. Ask about the ProArts $17.50 kamaaina discount nights (with valid Hawaii ID). For reservations or more information, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartspacific.
Some of you may remember the Maui Academy of Performing Arts production of “Theophilus North” two years ago. Its author, Thornton Wilder, is probably best known for the play “Our Town.” He also wrote a farce in 1938 called “The Merchant of Yonkers.”
Many years later, the story was revived and adapted by Wilder (now called “The Matchmaker”) for the London stage starring Ruth Gordon as Dolly Levi. A film version quickly followed starring Shirley Booth (“Hazel”), Shirley MacClaine, Anthony Perkins (yes, the “Psycho” guy) and Robert Morse. Not long after that, one of Sid Caesar’s young writers, Michael Stewart, was approached by the great director and choreographer Gower Champion to work on two projects. The first was “Bye, Bye Birdie,” quickly followed by a musical adaptation of Wilder’s “The Matchmaker” called “Hello, Dolly!”
Champion enlisted another relatively unknown youngster to compose the music, Jerry Herman. Herman would go on to create “Mame” and “La Cage aux Folles.” The original Dolly Levi was Carol Channing, who (believe or not) at age 92, still tours and performs on stage. Channing went on to reprise the role in four separate Broadway “Dolly” revivals, the most recent in 1994.
Other Dolly Levi’s over the years include Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Martha Raye, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Pearl Bailey, Dorothy Lamour, Eve Arden, Ann Southern, Michelle Lee, Alice Faye, Edie Adams, Yvonne De Carlo and Barbara Streisand. When it opened in 1963, it quickly became one of the biggest hits in Broadway history, and until the late 1980s it was the third longest-running Broadway show of all time.
It’s been almost 20 years since Broadway has revived “Hello, Dolly!,” and over a decade on Maui, but she returns Friday night at Seabury Hall’s new A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center.
“I’ve been wanting to do this show,” says the show’s director and choreographer David Ward. “This first season of our new theater is the perfect opportunity. We have a beautiful new building, a grand musical and a really talented cast of young performers we look forward to fostering.”
Playing Dolly Levi is Mikela Wesson. Levi is hired by Horace Vandergelder (Joe Bellafiore) to provide introductions to millenary shop owner Miss Molloy (Elle Bega). She, and her assistant Minnie (Sabrina Futch), by Dolly’s doing, get covertly matched with Vandergelder’s employees Cornelius (Jeremy Morton) and Barnaby (Carter Umetsu) in this romantic, comic romp through a tuneful 1890s New York.
A cast of more than two dozen students play the waiters, suffragettes, parade-goers, and other New Yorkers sporting lavish turn-of-the-century period costumes designed by Andre Morissette and Vanessa Cerrito, with scenic and light design by Todd Van Amburgh.
“We have such strong voices,” says music director Stephen Haines, who will lead the live band and play piano.
* Seabury Hall presents “Hello, Dolly!,” opening Friday and showing weekends through March 4 at Seabury Hall’s A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center. Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 seniors, and $8 students. For reservations or more information, call 573-1257 or buy online at www.seaburyhall.org.
Also this week
Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, regarded worldwide as one of the foremost dance companies of India, performs tonight at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater. With exceptional synchronicity, compelling physicality and emotional honesty, the ensemble has earned international acclaim. Following an impossible dream, founder Protima Gauri, an exquisite Odissi dancer, converted farmland, now known as Nrityagram dance village, into an ideal setting for the study, practice and teaching of classical dance. Performance at 7:30 p.m. tonight. Tickets are $12, $32, $45 (plus applicable fees), available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.
Don’t miss the final performances of Maui Academy of Performing Arts’ exceptional production of “Man of La Mancha,” by Dale Wasserman, with lyrics by Joe Darion, music by Mitch Leigh, and directed by David C. Johnston. The show goes on through Feb. 24 at Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25 adults, $22 seniors and $18 students (18 and younger). For more information or tickets, call 244-8760, visit www.mauiacademy.org or purchase at the customer service kiosk at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center.
Maui OnStage presents “SHOUT: the Mod Musical,” co-created by Phillip George and David Lowenstein, directed by Kalani Whitford and starring Jonna Ahn, Felicia Chernicki, Alison Mikes, Lina Aiko Krueger and Danielle Delaunay.
“SHOUT!” flips through the years like a musical magazine and takes you back to the music, the fashion and the freedom of the ’60s. This smashing revue tracks five groovy gals as they come of age during those liberating days that made England swing. Join this nonstop journey through the infectious and soulful pop anthems and ballads that made household names of stars like Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Lulu.
“SHOUT!” uses letters to an advice columnist, true confessions, quizzes and advertisements as a frame for pop hits like “To Sir With Love,” “Downtown,” “Georgie Girl,” “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Goldfinger.”
Performances are March 1 through 17; 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Reserved seating tickets range from $17 to $28 and dinner packages are available. For tickets, call 242-6969 or purchase online at www.mauionstage.com.