Youths dazzle in Maui shows

The apparent theme of youth theater this summer is raising the bar considerably.

With Theatre Theatre Maui’s “Shrek: The Musical Jr.,” designer and technical director Annabehl Sinclair-Delaney appears to be the catalyst. From set design to scene painting, to costumes and props, “Shrek” is significantly more advanced stylistically than any previous TTM production. The Maui Academy of Performing Arts also follows suit with “The Little Mermaid,” which not only outdistances its 2015 production of “Oliver,” but also rivals every 2016 Maui musical with the highest production values.

In TTM’s largest undertaking to date, director Kristi Scott has not only grown her cast considerably, but in addition to Sinclair-Delaney, has added the professional talents of Ricky Jones and David Negaard on lights, crisp choreography by Felicia Chernicki-Wulf and colorful makeup design by Rachel Deboer.

Rory Delaney, who played Ariel in TTM’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” in 2013, has become a bonafide youth theater stage star, not just as the Dragon in “Shrek,” but also in the role of Sloth as she hilariously crawled slowly across the stage in last week’s production at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali. The most charming aspect to TTM’s “Shrek” is what appeared to be the 2-year-old seating section of enthralled toddlers sitting on the floor just feet from the stage.

“Shrek” was a little raw in comparison to the MAPA Summer Musical Theatre Camp production, but the delight of those children more than made up for it. Tygris Taamu was fearless and funny in the title role. Tessa Chin, who first wowed me with her exuberance and stage presence in TTM’s 2014 production of “Bugsy Malone Jr.,” practically stole the show in the role of Donkey. Another crowd pleaser was Landon Long as Gingy (aka The Ginger Bread Man). Act 2 of “Shrek” worked much better with its barrage of back-to-back strong numbers like “Morning Person,” well performed by Chloe Chin as Princess Fiona, “I Think I Got You Beat,” “Freak Flag” and the curtain-call number, “I’m a Believer,” performed by the cast of 57 youths ages 7 to 14.

No pun intended, but “The Little Mermaid” is a different animal. Last week, I incorrectly stated that MAPA was producing the junior version of “Mermaid.” Absolutely nothing is paired down nor simplified in this immense state-of-the-art production. The set pieces by Todd Van Amburgh are opulent, only heightened with ongoing, larger-than-life video animation projections as a backdrop. The costumes by Kathleen Schulz and her team exceed adult-production quality, and the vocals coached by musical director Kirsten Otterson and cast vocal captain Aeris Joseph-Takeshita rival the best Maui has to offer.

Then there is Lana Canton as Ursula. Canton, a college student, is so good that her performance is worth the admission price alone. Joseph-Takeshita also sparkles as Ariel, and Preston Watanabe, as Prince Eric, is at his finest on “One Step Closer,” showcasing some debonair dance moves. Not to be ignored are the polished comic performances of Satori Israel as Chef, Kailee Kaeo as Sebastian and Dakota Welch as Scuttle. Welch’s plucky performance is so impressive that it seems that if she is this fearless on stage at age 10, then the sky is the limit to her potential as a future teenage lead. Featured roles aside, what makes “Mermaid” so grand, however, is its full cast ensemble numbers.

The news has been quite depressing of late, and two joyful moments stuck with me this weekend. One was 71 kids singing “Under the Sea” with clever, lighted umbrella-jellyfish costumes, and the other was the TTM kids in kick-line formation singing “Let your freak flag fly.” Whether you like the “oops” aspect that goes hand in hand with youth theater or not, it is undeniably real, it’s hopeful and it’s as comforting as a family summer barbecue.

ALSO THIS WEEKEND

Join Cabaret & Cocktails for a “Sizzling Summer Burlesque BBQ.” Enjoy an evening of song, dance, comedy and burlesque with performances by Lily O’Lei, Sadie Vine and Miss F Bomb, three “frisky, whiskey wahine who like their burlesque with a shot of bourbon.” For mature audiences.

* Performances will be at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $25 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the door or in advance through www.eventbrite.com.

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Maui OnStage continues Monty Python’s “Spamalot,” directed by Steven Dascoulias, choreographed by Kalani Whitford and under the musical direction of Vania Jerome. Lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Spamalot” retells the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and features a bevy of beautiful show girls, not to mention cows, killer rabbits and French people.

* Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays through July 31 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets range from $20 to $40 and are available by calling 242-6969 or online at www.mauionstage.com.

UPCOMING

MAPA Live! presents “Jekyll & Hyde” by Frank Wildhorn, Steve Cuden and Leslie Bricusse, directed by David C. Johnston, choreographed by Andre Morissette and under the musical direction of Gary W. Leavitt.

n Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays from Aug. 5 to 14 in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. “Jekyll & Hyde” contains mature language and themes. Tickets range from $15 to $75 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.

OPPORTUNITIES

Maui OnStage will be holding auditions for “Boeing, Boeing” by Marc Camoletti from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Historic Iao Theater. All actors should arrive at 6 p.m., and bring a current head shot, resume and conflict calendar, and be prepared to read from the script.

The role of Bernard has been cast. Available roles include Robert (35-45), Gloria (25-35), Gabriella (25-35), Gretchen (25-35) and Berthe (30-50). “Boeing, Boeing” contains sexual content.

The production will open Sept. 30 and run weekends through Oct. 16. Rehearsals will begin immediately following casting.

* Character sides and more information are available at www.mauionstage.com. To schedule an appointment call 244-8680.

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The Maui Fringe Theater Festival 2017 is now accepting submissions. Fringe productions should be simplistic short plays with minimal set and technical needs.

If accepted, the entry fee for three performances is $500. The seventh annual Maui Fringe Theater Festival will take place from Jan. 20 to 22 at the Historic Iao Theater. The Maui Fringe will be partnering with the Hawaii Fringe Festival Circuit (Oahu Fringe from Jan. 12 to 15, Waimea Fringe from Jan. 26 to 29). Acceptance into any Hawaii Fringe entitles participants to an entry-fee discount.

* To be considered, email your 60-minutes-or-less, original one-act play to fringe@mauionstage.com. For complete rules, additional guidelines and an application, visit www.mauionstage.com.