Backstage top 10 in 2013

“One singular sensation” – it’s a theater cliche, but that is the intention in choosing the finest stage moments of 2013. Some shows had small crowds, some were less than perfect, but these were the moments that made me sit up a little straighter, transfixed on that extra special action that suddenly dazzles on opening nights.

10. One letter: “Q.” Quarrat Kadwani’s “They Call Me Q!” was a Fringe Festival masterpiece. All the proof needed is that she has won multiple awards and has gone on to perform in New York, Washington, D.C., Montreal and London. Her one-woman show (in which she played upward of 20 characters) was hysterical and touching, involving nothing more than a chair, a table and a few props. My particularly favorite moment was her reenactment of a visit to India and the conversation with a henna street artist. The portrayal was as convincing as if it were you being told a tale of hope by an impoverished Indian girl.

9. Not to slight the Ahi boys (Derek Nakagawa and Francis Tau’a), but the addition of Kathy Collins into last spring’s “Fresher Ahi” was another 2013 highlight. Of all the Ahi ohana, I think the Chins are my favorites. Uncle Chin’s (Tau’a) lines are completely unintelligible, yet you understand every word. In 2012’s “Lesser Ahi,” Uncle Chin said his wife liked wine. Nakagawa asked, “What kind?” Uncle Chin mumbled, “Mostly she box ’em.” In “Fresher Ahi,” we finally meet Auntie Chin (Collins), his octogenarian wife. Collins shuffled bowlegged with overflowing bags, screaming: “Chin, Chin!” This is comedy, but Collins brought the character to life. True comedic characters are not aware that they are being funny; they are funny because they are true.

8. Easily one of the finest regular Maui Arts & Cultural Center guests, Marc Bamuthi Joseph wowed the crowd again in 2013 with “The Spoken World.” Joseph has a dynamic stage presence. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he is an immensely talented dancer and champion slam poet. To do both at the same time without appearing to lose his breath is an artistic achievement few could accomplish at all, let alone excel at both. My favorite moment of the show was his tale of explaining to his Haitian-born father that he wanted to be a tap dancer, while tapping and portraying his 10-year-old self. Joseph went on to be cast in Broadway’s “The Tap Dance Kid” and is now widely regarded as one of the most innovative and artistically important entertainers in America.

7. I love surprises. I had no preconceived notions that I would need to save a spot for Elvis, but Darren Lee’s brand-new tribute show, “Burn’n Love,” is an awful lot of fun. What makes the entire production work is a combination of six dancers, fantastic costumes, spectacular technical effects, a tight band and the kind of showmanship that can neither be taught nor learned. At midshow, the person next to me leaned over and said, “If Elvis was still alive, I think this is the show he would do.” Lee works the crowd in the tradition of not only Elvis, but also Sinatra, Jerry Lewis and other giants from the golden era of song and dance. My favorite moment was “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” as he wandered through the audience while women screamed and stood up, waved their arms, anything to get Lee to come over for a hug or a handshake. (“Burn’n Love” continues four nights a week at Maui Theatre in Lahaina. For details, call the theater at 856-7900.)

6. It’s been almost a full year, and politically speaking, the 2012 election seems like a decade ago, but Bill Maher’s New Year’s Day recap was one of the funniest performances of the year. To summarize: “Romney will be fine. He’s been running for president since they brought his egg back from the moon. When there is nothing left on the earth but plastic bags and cockroaches, Romney will run in a hazmat suit.”

5. I was beyond pleased that the current ProArts Playhouse’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is the equal of a professional tour. There are endless funny moments and many wonderful songs, but the best in my mind was “The I Love You Song,” sung by Christina Sutrov and accompanied by Kisha Milling and Scott Smith. Sotrov, as Olive Ostrovsky belongs on Maui’s short list of best performances by an actress in a 2013 musical. “Spelling Bee” returns Jan. 3 to 12. Call ProArts at 463-6550.

4. In July, I suggested that “RENT” needed to be experienced, not talked about. Although “RENT” had its flaws, the full-cast “Seasons of Love” moment was about as good as it gets. When you incorporated the dozens of teenagers sitting in the back rows clapping, crying, making hearts with their hands and singing along, “Seasons of Love” may have been the biggest chicken-skin moment of 2013.

3. Last spring, I praised Director Kalani Whitford for “Shout!: The Mod Musical,” and compared it with what one might expect to see on tour at the MACC. The James Bond Medley – from the very funny rendition of the Bond theme to “Coldfinger” (aka “Goldfinger”), sung by Lina Krueger, and “Diamonds Are Forever,” sung by Jonna Ahn, plus mesmerizing lighting effects and costumes – remains one of the finest singular stage moments of 2013.

2. The growing parade of A-list comedians that has visited the MACC the past few years has certainly made this job an awful lot of fun. Even at 75, Bill Cosby remains one of the best in the business. The genius of Mr. Cosby is that just when you think he has lost his train of thought, it all comes back full circle; it is the tangents that made this performance a theatrical experience and not just a funny person with a list of jokes and hot topics. Cosby routines stay funny decades after delivery.

1. It should come as no surprise that “Les Miserables” tops the list. Director David Johnston assembled a beyond exceptional team of collaborators and one of the most talented casts Maui has ever seen. In truth, I could probably include five “Les Mis” moments on this list, but in my mind, the most perfect was Jerry Eiting’s performance of “Stars” as act one came toward its end. The buildup of one great performance after another certainly contributed to the power of the moment, but Eiting had to deliver the act one exclamation point. As I said back in August, not only could Eiting have been cast in a New York or London “Les Mis” production, but also in the same leading role.