Up close with: Bob Wills

Many Maui residents have two or more jobs. I certainly do, and the same is true for almost every director and choreographer on island. When Bob Wills isn’t singing, acting, conducting or directing, he is the coach/broker-in-charge for Century 21 All Islands in Kahului by day.

“Believe me, it is a juggling act. A lot of nights are spent rehearsing. But it is what charges my batteries, fills my spirit,” said Wills.

I asked how he got started in music.

“It really started when I was in 4th grade and took cello lessons. I was second chair in the St. Paul Youth Orchestra,” he explained. “Then I made one of the dumbest decisions of my life. I got to sophomore year in high school and I just magically decided that it wasn’t ‘cool’ anymore to play cello. Dumb, dumb, dumb. My stand mate now plays with the London Philharmonic. But what it did give me was the ability to read music and a sense of the difference between good music and garbage.”

In high school, Wills began singing in a rock band, but gravitated back to classical music in college.

“I heard Brahms, then Mendelssohn. It was all over. After I heard that, the rock stuff was crap by comparison. Then my journey began into choral and orchestral music.”

That journey lead to an invitation to conduct at the Vatican in 1992 and 1998. I asked Wills to share the experience.

“Both times were for the late Pope John Paul II with my church choir. Now, this is not the church choir you know here on Maui, where you have a ‘choir’ of eight people, six women and two men, and the two men don’t want to be there, but they are married to one of the six women. My church choirs sang in seven languages and were between 40 and 70 singers. This is where my heart is, in church music. I mean really good church music. We don’t have it here, sadly.”

In addition to his work as a musical director, Wills is the founder and conductor of Masterworks.

“Masterworks is something I started four years ago,” he said. “I hoped we would have an audience. I asked the instrumentalists to play for free because we were building something here which would grow. Everyone told me it would never happen. I would never get the players. I would never put the choir together. Maui was too small. Our choir ended up being 55 and the orchestra was 28. We did the Mozart Requiem – thought we would get 150 people to come – 550 were there!”

Now after three years worth of successful classical music concerts, I wanted to know what he had in store in the near future.

“Masterworks has given birth to a brand new orchestra here on Maui, the Maui Chamber Orchestra. We will have three concerts this year, fall, winter, and spring. Dates and a location haven’t been set, but we would prefer the Castle (Theater) and will certainly work with Maui Pops Orchestra’s schedule.”

In the meantime, Wills has his hands full with another orchestra, on the Maui Academy of Performing Arts production of “Les Miserables.” I wanted to know if this Maui production would hold up to previous, internationally known productions.

“Are you kidding? This is going to better,” said Wills. “The cast here on Maui is truly exceptional. I will stack this cast and production up against any production I have seen or heard. That’s not just local boy inflated impression of where we are. No, it is that good.”

A little more than 130 Maui residents auditioned for “Les Miserables,” with 85 singers, dancers and actors cast, including James Price, a tenor with extensive international experience in professional opera, in the lead role of Jean Valjean. The cast also features a treasure trove of powerhouse performers well known to Maui audiences including Jerry Eiting as Javert, Leighanna Locke as Fantine, Lia Krieg as Eponine, Dylan Bode as Marius, Jacqui Sherwood as Cosette, Kepa Cabanilla-Aricayos as Enjolras, and Kristi Scott and Dale Button as the Thenardiers.

The orchestra made up of 28 musicians will feature flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, tuba, two keyboards, eight violins, three violas, three cellos, two bass, plus extensive percussion which will include not just a drum kit, but timpani, tam tam, cymbals, tambourine, tubular bell, xylophone, glockenspiel, tin cups, cow bell, an old copper pot, and a garbage can lid.

“At the Tony awards this year, Harold Price got a Lifetime Achievement Award and said what he was most proud of was that he had the musical on Broadway that had the most instrumentalists in the pit: 28. Guess what? We have 28 for Maui’s ‘Les Mis,’ ” Wills pointed out.

* The Maui Academy of Performing Arts presents “Les Miserables,” with music by Claude-Michael Schonberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boulil and Jean-Marc Natel, with English-language libretto by Herbert Kretzmer and based on the novel by Victor Hugo. The MAPA production, directed by David C. Johnston, choreographed by Andre Morissette and under the musical direction of Robert E. Wills opens on Aug. 16 and runs through Aug. 25. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater. Tickets range from $15 to $65 (plus applicable fees) through the MACC box office. To purchase tickets for any MACC event visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at

This weekend

The young students of Maui Academy of Performing Arts will present a live theatrical production of the musical “Disney’s 101 Dalmatians Kids,” with music and lyrics by Mel Leven, Randy Rogel, Richard Gibbs, Brian Smith, Martin Lee Fuller and Dan Root, based on the screenplay by Bill Peet and the novel “The Hundred and One Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith.

In a loving home in the city of London, Roger and Anita live happily with their family of Dalmatians. Everything is quiet until the monstrous Cruella De Vil plots to steal the puppies for her new fur coat. Join all the dogs of London as they daringly rescue the puppies from Cruella and her bumbling henchmen.

* “Disney’s 101 Dalmation Kids” is co-directed by Kathleen Schulz and Ricky Pavao Jones, with musical direction by Brooke Hart and choreography by Kathleen Schulz. The production will star children between the ages of 7 to 12. It runs July 5 through 7 at Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. Performances are at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday; and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $12 for adults; and $8 for students 12 and younger. For reservations, call 244-8760 or purchase at the customer service kiosk at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. For more information, visit

In partnership with Makena Beach & Golf Resort, ” ‘Ulalena” announces a brand new show on Maui’s south side. “LU’AU” will offer all the crowd-favorites of both ” ‘Ulalena” and a classic Hawaiian luau in an elegant and intimate setting that includes a fine-dining experience. Performances are at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays on the lawn at the Makena resort, with pristine ocean views and spectacular sunsets. Tickets are $119 for adults; kamaaina rates are available.

* For more information or to purchase tickets, call Maui Theatre at 856-7900 or visit


Maui OnStage will present the Tony award-winning “RENT,” by Jonathan Larson, directed by Steven Dascoulias, choreographed by Sarah Loney and under the musical direction of Vania Jerome. Based loosely on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Larson’s “RENT” follows a year in the life of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York’s Lower East Side. The cast of 16 features Jonna Ahn, Charles Cook, Kelsey Greenway, Ricky Jones, Kisha Milling, Isaac Rauch, Francis Tau’a and Kalen Willits.

* Performances of “RENT” will run July 12 through Aug. 4. Shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays at the Historic Iao Theater. Reserved seating tickets range from $17 to $28, with a limited number of discounted rush tickets available one-hour prior to each performance. For tickets or more information, call 242-6969 or purchase reserved seats online at