Musical endeavor ready for debut

Investing in a new artistic endeavor is always risky. Those who try will be told, “It won’t work.” They may site an example of a past Maui failed attempt, or suggest you won’t find the players or a significant audience. In less than a decade, the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s schedule of events has doubled, two new high school drama programs have been launched and the ProArts Playhouse has opened. In addition, both Maui Academy of Performing Arts and Maui OnStage have expanded, the Maui Theatre now boasts two long-running hit shows and Opera Maui offered its debut performance earlier this month. Sustaining audiences isn’t easy, but most of these arts organizations pack their houses nightly.

Under the direction of founder, music director and conductor Robert E. “Bob” Wills, the new Maui Chamber Orchestra will present its debut concert, “The Birth of an Orchestra,” at the Historic Iao Theater next weekend. Wills has had a long career in music, on Maui and in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has been a member of the Minnesota Opera and the Minnesota Chorale, and served as music director for the St. Paul Community Orchestra and several renowned choirs. Wills was even invited to conduct at the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in 1992 and 1998. “Both times were for the late Pope John Paul II with my church choir,” he shared. Slowly but surely, when not taking the stage in “La Cage Aux Folles,” or serving as music director and conductor for “Les Miserables,” Wills has built the 33-piece MCO and 55-member Maui Masterworks Chorale.

Composers such as Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven wrote with chamber orchestra in mind. These smaller-sized orchestras numbered from 12 to 30 musicians. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the word orchestra began to imply the gigantic symphonies we know today. In contrast, the MCO will perform on a more intimate scale, as originally intended by the earlier composers.

MCO’s debut concert will consist of Mozart’s “Overture to the Marriage of Figaro,” his Symphony No. 41, Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” and “Cantique de Jean Racine,” by Faure. As a special treat for the debut concert, the Faur work has been arranged by composer and harpsichordist Layton James. “Skip” James, a former colleague of Wills’, is the retired principal keyboardist of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Wills needed an arrangement of the piece for the upcoming concert.

“The only ones I was able to find were for strings and harp, one for just woodwinds and one that was available for rental,” he shared. “I called Skip and he completed the arrangements in a few days.”

The James arrangement will be presented for the first time at MCO’s inaugural concert. “‘Written for Robert E. Wills and the Maui Chamber Orchestra,’ is on the title page for our first concert.” Wills also points out that Faure, the original composer, was just 19 when the piece was first performed. “I was worried about where the beer bottle opener was at 19.”

In 2010, Wills was worried he would only get 150 people to see Maui Masterworks; 500 showed up. The next year, the chorale presented two concerts and sold more than 800 tickets. Another leap of faith was to rent the Castle Theater, and they sold out.

MCO will now call the Iao Theater its home. An entire season is planned with three additional concerts booked up to March.

“I realized we had hit on something, people are hungry for this,” says Wills. “The intimacy of a 400-seat hall (Iao Theater) fits our business model.”

n Don’t miss The Maui Chamber Orchestra’s debut concert, “The Birth of an Orchestra,” featuring the Maui Masterworks Chorale. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10 at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets range from $25 to $45, with half-priced tickets available with a valid student ID. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at

Closing this weekend

Maui OnStage presents “Legally Blonde: the Musical,” based on the book by Heather Hach, with lyrics and music by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, directed by Justin House, choreographed by Erin Kowalick and under the musical direction of Vania Jerome. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets range from $17 to $28. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or visit


From the company that brought you “Les Miserables,” MAPA LIVE presents “Miss Saigon,” with music by Claude-Michael Schnberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boulil and Richard Maltby Jr., directed by David C. Johnston, choreographed by Andre Morissette and under the musical direction of Gary Shinn-Leavitt. This haunting and heart-wrenching love story of a Vietnamese bar girl and an American Marine set during the fall of Saigon is making its Maui debut featuring 45 performers and a 21-piece orchestra. “Miss Saigon” contains mature themes and language. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Aug. 15 to 24 in Castle Theater at the MACC. Tickets range from $15 (with a valid student ID) to $65 (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at


The Maui Fringe Theater Festival 2015 is now accepting submissions. To be considered, email your 60-minutes-or-less, original one-act play to For complete rules, additional guidelines and an application, visit Submissions will be considered until Nov. 7, and the winning entries will be announced Nov. 14.

Fringe productions should be simplistic short plays with minimal set and technical needs. If accepted, the entry fee for three performances is $500, with kamaaina discounts available for Hawaii residents. Chosen entrants will receive 50 percent of their box-office gross.

Maui OnStage will provide a box office, house and technical staff, plus general assistance. Cash prizes are awarded for first ($500), second ($300) and third ($100) place, chosen by a panel of Maui entertainment journalists. The fifth annual Maui Fringe Theater Festival will take place from Jan. 23 to 25 at the Historic Iao Theater.