Maui youth theater shines

“Mulan, Jr.,” “Willy Wonka Kids,” and “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” presented a weekend filled with fun and quality performances

Jena Mukai as Mulan (front) gets a visit from her ancestors Caitlyn Campbell (from left), Taylor-Ann Takitani, Sophia Preiser, Kealani Warner and Rylee Hubin in Maui Academy of Performing Arts production of “Mulan, Jr.,” 
• Peter Swanzy photo

Jena Mukai as Mulan (front) gets a visit from her ancestors Caitlyn Campbell (from left), Taylor-Ann Takitani, Sophia Preiser, Kealani Warner and Rylee Hubin in Maui Academy of Performing Arts production of “Mulan, Jr.,” • Peter Swanzy photo

Three Maui youth theater camps presented musical productions last weekend and each company enjoyed its own distinct style.

The Maui Academy of Performing Arts can pride itself on presenting the most professional and luxurious production with “Disney’s Mulan Jr.” at Seabury Hall campus’ state-of-the-art ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center in Makawao.

In “Mulan’s” opening number, “Written in Stone,” I was immediately impressed by Vanessa Cerrito’s elegant costumes with more than 50 children dressed in beautiful, culturally accurate attire. The large cast impresses on countless occasions in complicated, differing vocal parts throughout the entire production, and are a credit to musical director Danielle Mealani Delaunay. Jena Mukai in the title role gives a magnificent performance, worthy of holding her own were she to play the same teenage role in an adult regional theater production. Caitlyn Campbell, Rylee Hubin, Sophia Presier, Taylor-Ann Takatani and Kealani Warner also impress as Mulan’s Ancestors, especially on “Bride Practice” and “Honor to Us All.”

The songs of “Mulan” are less recognizable than those of “Willy Wonka Kids” and “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.,” but they are vocally challenging and mastered by the five Ancestors.

Comic relief is amply supplied by Shandon Obregon as Mushu the dragon who desperately seeks the Ancestors’ good graces. A crowd favorite, Obregon wows on his feature number “Keep ‘Em Guessin’.”

Copyright 2017 Jack Grace Photography

Copyright 2017 Jack Grace Photography

When Shan-Yu’s (Noelle Lo) army of Huns invades China, the Emperor (Haley Mahoe) orders that one man from each family must join the Chinese army. Disguised as a man, Mulan enlists in her father Fa Zhou’s (Adam Purdy) place.

There are many notable featured comedic performances in the MAPA production including Kaya Glomb as Chi Fu as well as Lo who doubles as the no-nonsense Matchmaker with a gigantic mole on her face. Kamanao Aganos, Preston Summit and Purdy dispense many additional laughs as a bumbling trio of soldiers Ling, Yao and Quin Po.

In standard Disney form, an unlikely love story emerges between Mulan and her commanding officer Shang, played by Tehoni Nae’ole. The experienced teens Mukai and Nae’ole have wonderful stage chemistry and capably shoulder their leading roles allowing the younger children to stand out in the smaller cameos.

Adding to the sophistication of “Mulan” is the skilled lighting by Todd Van Amburgh, superb props, stage illusion and a well-designed practical set by Jamie Tait. In the program notes, co-directors Kathleen Schulz and Logan Heller praise the hard work required by the young cast for a production of this scope and Shultz adds, regarding the MAPA students, “But even more than that, I want them to remember this summer for all the fun, friends and memories we shared.”

• MAPA continues “Disney’s Mulan Jr.” with performances at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center at Seabury Hall. Reserved seating tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for children; general admission tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for children. For tickets or more information, visit www.mauiacademy.org.

Nearly the entire cast of “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” dances and sings in “Be Our Guest,” one of the highlights from Theatre Theatre Maui’s weekend performance.
• Ray Chin photo

Nearly the entire cast of “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” dances and sings in “Be Our Guest,” one of the highlights from Theatre Theatre Maui’s weekend performance. • Ray Chin photo

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Though considerably more diminutive in scale, everything from the set pieces to props to costumes in “Willy Wonka Kids” is created by the 27 kids in its cast, including 11-year-old lighting designer Kieran Lord, with adult supervision by Director Alexis Dascoulias, Musical Director Steven Dascoulias, Sound Engineer Dawn Harper, Costume Designers Ricky Jones, Dejah Padon and Brett Wulfson, Choreographer Erin Kowalick and Light Designer Amy Lord.

From the opening strains of “The Candy Man,” Generation X-ers will be transported to childhood memories of the 1971 Gene Wilder film. Stephani Peterson’s sweet singing is a highlight of the Maui OnStage Youth Theater production, as is her narration which carries the tale forward briskly. “Willie Wonka” zips along at just under one-hour with its catchy songs like “(I’ve Got A) Golden Ticket” and “Oompa Loompa,” and Jeremiah Webb gives a praiseworthy performance in the title role and in his solo song “Pure Imagination.”

An imagination is essential in “Willy Wonka” as much of the fantastic chocolate factory is suggested with the show’s focus upon the libretto. Five lucky children win the chance to tour the famous factory, Sloan Beerer as Augustus Gloop, Kanoa Goring as Mike Teevee, Sachiko Pierner as Violet Beauregarde, Dakota Welch as Veruca Salt and of course Anuhea Vida as Charlie Bucket.

Vida has a strong singing voice and playful stage energy in the role, which perfectly contrasts the lessons of Roald Dahl’s original book. The other four children are gluttonous, disrespectful, ill-mannered and self-centered and all four child actors seem to be having a blast behaving badly, especially evident in Welch’s “I Want It Now!” As each child receives their just desserts, an army of adorable Oompa Loompas emerge offering musical morals such as “If you’re not greedy,” “Spoiled” or “Given good manners you will go far. You will live in happiness too. Like the Oompa Loompa doompa-dee-doo.”

MOS Youth Theater may be “A paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea,” yet who better to play make-believe than kids.

• Maui OnStage Youth Theater continues “Willy Wonka Kids” with performances at 11 a.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children. To purchase tickets call 242-6969 or visit www.mauionstage.com.

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Theater Theater Maui’s new storefront location provided a comfortable and cozy “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” theater experience last weekend. Detailed direction by Kristi Scott, professional lighting by Ricky Jones, outstanding prop and set design by Annabehl Sinclair-Delaney, and terrific costumes by MaryBeth Chin enhanced the youth production.

As is always the case with youth musicals, “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” was at its best when the full ensemble was singing together. The show opened with the wonderfully executed “Belle,” and Charli Wurts gives a commendable performance in the leading role. Wurts is multi-talented and well-suited for the role as is her younger sister Shelsea Wurts who plays Chip the tea cup. Harley Delatori as Chip’s mother Mrs. Potts the teapot exhibits tremendous vocals, as does Kiana Tuttle as Signorra della Grande Bocca the armoire.

After Belle agrees to take her father Maurice’s (Ace Green) place as captive to the Beast (Moses Flores), she is welcomed graciously by Lumiere the candelabra (Rory Delaney). Delaney, armed with several years of theater experience, gives a well-rounded, accomplished performance with a witty French accent, robust vocals and convincing character work.

A crowd favorite was Landon Long as Gaston. Long fearlessly plays the pompous brute with larger-than-life, cartoonish flair.

The highlight of “Beauty and the Beast Jr.,” was the large-scale number “Be Our Guest,” so sizeable that the stage was just barely big enough to accommodate the full cast. By Act 2, Belle begins to care for the Beast, and his cursed staff hopes to return to human form if they can make the couple fall in love before the last rose petal falls. In the title song, Belle and the Beast’s love blooms in a waltz choreographed by Felicia Chernicki-Wulf. Flores as the Beast gives a first-rate acting performance bolstered by magnificent makeup design by Rachel DeBoer.

As endearing as youth shows can be, my favorite element is observing the reactions of 3- and 4-year-olds in the audience. As the second act of “Beauty and the Beast” began and the lights went down a tiny voice shouted out, “Yeah!” She may have been experiencing live theater for the first time and that combined with camp camaraderie is what youth theater is all about.

Also this week

Maui OnStage continues “9 to 5 The Musical,” music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, book by Patricia Resnick, directed and choreographed by Kalani Whitford and under the co-musical direction of Kim and Richard Vetterli. Pushed to the boiling point, three female coworkers, Violet (Lina Aiko Krueger), Judy (Katherine Holtkamp) and Doralee (Lia Krieg-DeSouza), concoct a plan to get even with their sexist and egotistical boss Mr. Hart (Jerry Eiting).

• Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through August 6 at the Historic Iao Theater. “9 to 5” contains some adult material and may not be appropriate for children. Tickets range from $20 to $40. To purchase tickets call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.

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