And the winner is . . . Maui’s volunteer actors honored with Pulliam’s Picks awards

Lin McEwan in “Boeing, Boeing” • Jack Grace photo

And the winner is . . . Maui’s volunteer actors honored with Pulliam’s Picks awardsA significant trend is happening on Broadway, a shift that began when “Fun Home” rode a May buzz to become the big winner at the Tony Awards two years ago. Last year it was “Hamilton,” with 11 Tony Awards, and a continued popularity that can warrant $3,000 or more for a single ticket.

Multimillion-dollar, lavish, light musical-comedies with household name titles and well-known stars have become passe. Small sardonic shows that take on serious topics are now in vogue.

This year’s biggest nominee is “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” with 12 nominations. This little show that began as a chamber opera in a tiny 78-seat off-off-Broadway theater is a slice of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

One of the big non-musical success stories of 2016-17 is “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” directed by Sam Gold (“Fun Home”), which picks up 18 years after Nora walked out on her family in Henrik Ibsen’s classic 19th-century play.

Surprisingly, expected hits like “The Front Page” with Nathan Lane, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” with Liev Schreiber,” “A Bronx Tale The New Musical,” by Chazz Palminteri and Alan Menken and co-directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks, “Disney’s Anastasia,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the revival of “Sunset Boulevard” with Glenn Close and “Amelie: The Musical” received a scant four nominations –two for “Anastasia and two for “The Front Page” — and many have recently closed.

Lina Aiko Krueger in “Spamalot” • Jack Grace photo

On Sunday night anticipate four shows to dominate the ceremony, “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” and “Dear Evan Hansen” in the musical categories, and “A Doll’s House, Part 2” and “Oslo” for plays. Denee Benton of “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” appears to have the momentum in the Best Actress in a Musical category despite being nominated against Broadway legends Bette Midler in “Hello Dolly!” and Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone from “War Paint.”

In another loaded category, Best Actress in a Play, Laurie Metcalf in “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” is a heavy favorite against Cate Blanchett in “The Present,” Jennifer Ehle in “Oslo,” Sally Field in “The Glass Menagerie” and Laura Linney in “The Little Foxes.”

Maui viewers may want to root for Rachel Bay Jones of “Dear Evan Hansen.” The 47-year-old single mom lived on Maui a decade ago contemplating if she should continue pursuing her Broadway dreams. Jones, the sentimental favorite and three-decade chorus member, is nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

For the past five years at Tony time, I have chosen my personal favorite local performances in an effort to acknowledge the work of Maui’s volunteer actors. It is my hope that at some future date there will be an official awards celebration on Maui, but until such time I will continue to honor our local stage stars in this annual column.

My 2016-17 choice for the best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play is Lin McEwan in “Boeing, Boeing.” Ronit Suzan of broadway

Robert E. Wills (left) with Ricky Jones in “A Few Good Men” • Jack Grace photo declared of McEwan’s performance as the over-the-top Gretchen: “McEwan plays Gretchen flawlessly,” and local drama critic Barry Wurst II said that her performance “begins at explosive levels and maintains that giddy level of comic lunacy until her final scene.” McEwan was the comedic maestro of “Boeing, Boeing” and the audience favorite.

For best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical my choice is Lina Aiko Krueger as the Lady of the Lake in “Spamalot.” Krueger championed the role and owned the Historic Iao Theater stage in last summer’s production, singing in “What Ever Happened To My Part?,” “I’ve no Grammy, no reward, I’ve no Tony Award.” Her portrayal was not only award-worthy but, in my mind, the finest female performance of the year.

For best performance by an actor in a featured role in a play, I pick Robert E. Wills as Col. Nathan Jessep in “A Few Good Men.” The musically gifted Wills showcased the other side of his talent in this dramatic role. The only time I witnessed spontaneous applause in the middle of a scene this season was immediately following Wills’ “You can’t handle the truth” monologue.

My pick for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical is Bennett Cale as Andre in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Cale (alongside Marsi Smith) almost stole a show full of star performances with the delightful duet “Like Zis/Like Zat.” His French accent was suburb, his dance work and vocals were skilled, elegant and charming, and his mastery of sarcasm and deadpan reaction was second to none.

In the category of best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play I choose Hoku Pavao Jones as Jackie-O in the deliciously dark “The House of Yes.” Jones offered what can only be described as a virtuoso performance as a young woman long traumatized by childhood memories that left her both mentally unstable and a danger to herself. Her shockingly taboo divulgence and the play’s somber conclusion may have been too much for Maui audiences, but like a traffic accident, Jones’ mesmerizing portrayal was impossible to look away from.

Bennett Cale (right), with Marsi Smith, in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” • Jack Grace photo

For best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical I pick Katherine Holtkamp as Lucy in “Jekyll & Hyde.” Holtkamp electrified the Castle Theater stage upon her first entrance with a triumphant performance of “Bring On The Men,” and proceeded to steal the rest of Act 1, which culminated with her astounding exclamation point number “Someone Like You.”

My choice for best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play is Ricky Jones as Lt. Daniel Kaffee in “A Few Good Men.” Last month I said Jones had given a magnificent, award-worthy performance. It is no easy task to take on a well-known role so widely attributed to another actor. Jones has now accomplished this twice, in “Elf” in 2014 and now in “A Few Good Men.”

For best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical I choose Chris Kepler as Bert in “Mary Poppins.” In December I said that the moment Kepler took the stage he delivered a paramount performance. Kepler’s nimbleness, charm, his cockney accent and vocals were outstanding and, in my opinion, superior to Dick Van Dyke’s portrayal in the Disney film.

My choice for the best play of 2016-17 is “The House of Yes.” Although one of the first plays of the season, it was not surpassed by any that followed. In his debut as a director, Jim Oxborrow gave Maui a nearly flawless, dark, cosmopolitan production worthy of extensive in-depth post-show conversation.

Co-producers Oxborrow and Jennifer Rose surrounded themselves with stellar talent transporting Maui audiences into a world rarely explored. This mirror image offering of the current Broadway shift was realized at the tiny Pro- Arts Playhouse in Kihei in the inaugural Oxborrow/Rose production.

Hoku Pavao Jones in “The House of Yes” • Jack Grace photo

For best musical I pick “Spamalot.” Nearly a year has passed since its opening, yet from the moment Jerry Eiting as King Arthur pantomimed the classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” horse riding, followed by Ally Shore as Patsy mimicking the clopping of hooves with coconut shells, I was hooked. I thoroughly adored “Spamalot’s” relentless mockery of all things Broadway.

The talented cast, with its outstanding performances by Krueger, Dale Button, David Tuttle, Francis Tau’a, Daniel Vicars, Stephen Webb, Keith Welch and John Williams heightened a fantastically funny libretto that could have easily fallen flat without unblemished comedic cast contributions under the skillful direction of Steven Dascoulias.

This week

Oh Boy Productions and Seabury Hall Performing Arts present “Medea” by Euripides, directed by Vinnie Linares.

* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays June 10 through 18 at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Tickets are $20 at the door only.

Katherine Holtkamp in “Jekyll & Hyde” • Jack Grace photo

Ricky Jones in “A Few Good Men” • Jack Grace photo

Chris Kepler (left) with Sara Jelley in “Mary Poppins” • Jack Grace photo

“Spamalot” wins Pulliam’s Picks for best musical on Maui. • Jack Grace photo

John WIlliams (from left) Hoku Pavao Jones, Jennifer Rose and Elisha Cullins in “The House of Yes” wins Pulliam’s Picks for best play. • Jack Grace photo