Youth theater on Maui thrives

‘Seussical Jr.’ and ‘Androcles and the Lion’ open the season

Jeremiah Webb (from left) as the Cat in the Hat guides Ian Smith, as Horton the elephant, in Maui OnStage Youth Theater’s performance of “Seussical Jr.” Brett Wulfson photo

Jeremiah Webb (from left) as the Cat in the Hat guides Ian Smith, as Horton the elephant, in Maui OnStage Youth Theater’s performance of “Seussical Jr.” Brett Wulfson photo

Described when it first opened on Broadway as, “A musical perfect for the whole family,” “Seussical” has been transporting audiences into the world of Dr. Seuss for more than a decade.

This weekend the 42 children of Maui OnStage Youth Theater between the ages of 7 and 15 will open “Seussical Jr.,” bringing to life all of its beloved characters such as the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, Gertrude McFuzz, Lazy Mayzie and JoJo.

In this abbreviated libretto, the Cat in the Hat (Jeremiah Webb) guides the audience to the Jungle of Nool where we meet Horton (Ian Smith), a kind-hearted elephant who discovers a speck of dust on a nearby clover containing Whoville. Horton meets JoJo (Kanoa Gorring), a Who boy sent to military school for thinking too many “thinks.”

Horton decides he must shield the speck of dust, while at the same time nesting an abandoned egg left to his care by Lazy Mayzie Bird (Rylynn Guthrie). The noble elephant tries to convince the other animals in Nool of the existence of the Whos, but is ridiculed and eventually put on trial for insanity.

Only his love-struck neighbor, Gertrude McFuzz (Jaimie Tirona), believes in Horton and eventually wins Horton’s heart.

Rylynn Guthrie (left) is Lazy Mayzie Bird and Jaimie Tirona is Horton’s love-struck neighbor, Gertrude McFuzz. Brett Wulfson photo

Rylynn Guthrie (left) is Lazy Mayzie Bird and Jaimie Tirona is Horton’s love-struck neighbor, Gertrude McFuzz. Brett Wulfson photo

“Seussical Jr.” weaves a story of friendship, loyalty and love. It emphasizes the power of being unique and the importance of fighting for your beliefs.

I asked director Alexis Dascoulias what distinguishes Maui OnStage Youth Theater from other youth theater programs she has been involved in over the years.

“Here on Maui we have a greater diversity of young people than anywhere else I’ve worked. And by diverse I mean experience, demographics, where the youngsters attend school and their exposure to singing and theater. They are an incredible group of youngsters,” she shared. “Maui OnStage’s youth program provides students the opportunity to run lights; learn how to run the sound board; design and choose costumes; paint sets and gain a better understanding of how all aspects of theater production works. As a young or experienced performer you have a much stronger appreciation of what it takes to create the entire production when you’ve helped sew costumes and paint the set. Theater is a team sport — it doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she added.

I asked why she chose “Seussical” as a vehicle for the program.

“I love the story of ‘Seussical,’ its ‘Horton Hears a Who’ with lots of other Seuss stories peppered in. What a great lesson for everyone ‘A person’s a person no matter how small.’ “

Tatyum Herrick (left) and Maverick Akana in Kamehameha Schools Maui’s production of Aesop’s Fable, “Androcles and the Lion.” Camille Romero photo

Tatyum Herrick (left) and Maverick Akana in Kamehameha Schools Maui’s production of Aesop’s Fable, “Androcles and the Lion.” Camille Romero photo

Dascoulias hopes that all parents and youngsters who attend a MOS youth show will have fun and have their eyes opened to the young talent on Maui.

“They can expect to be entertained, to be engaged, maybe even sing and clap along. MOS youth shows are the perfect opportunity to introduce young people to the theater,” she said.

* Maui OnStage Youth Theater presents “Seussical Jr.,” directed by Alexis Dascoulias. Performances are at 11 a.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. Sundays, beginning Saturday through Oct. 29 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.

*****

Next weekend the students of Kamehameha Schools Maui take on one of the most popular children’s plays ever written, the Aesop fable, “Androcles and the Lion.”

This irreverent musical adaptation is presented in the style of Italian commedia dell’arte. In commedia tradition, it is also a show-within-a-show. A group of strolling players set up their stage and give a performance using the stock characters of commedia — the young lovers, the miserly Pantalone (Tehoni Naeole), the bragging Capitano (Cullen Mitchell) and the Lion (Tatyum Herrick).

The ancient fable of “Androcles and the Lion” begins with a clever slave in ancient Rome, Androcles (Maverick Akana), who longs to be free. The lovers, Isabella (Taylor Watanabe) and Lelio (Jaime Lee Felipe) plan to elope, but when Pantalone, Isabella’s uncle, finds out about their plan, he hires the bumbling Capitano to guard Isabella and then hides her dowry, which he intends to keep for himself.

When Androcles realizes that Isabella is like himself, a slave without freedom, he agrees to help the couple escape. Becoming lost in the woods, Androcles finds himself face-to-face with a Lion. He soon realizes the man-eating beast has a thorn stuck in his paw. When Androcles removes the thorn, a friendship blooms.

Later, captured by Capitano, Androcles is sentenced to fight against a wild beast in the Roman Coliseum. The lion that emerges from the pit to eat him is the very same one he had helped in the forest.

Director Camille Romero explained her choice to expose this year’s students to a 500-year-old theater tradition rarely explored at the high school level.

“Commedia dell’arte is an improvised comedic theater form that flourished in Italy in the 1500s,” said Romero. “Our version is not improvised, but uses a few of the stock characters. These characters routinely appear in commedia scenes and always behave in the same manner. The masters are usually foolish, greedy old men, and the servants are hungry and mischievous. The young lovers are always in love. The Captain is vain and a braggart.”

I asked if her students were enjoying the style.

“They are enjoying this play. We read detailed background info on the stock characters and their physical postures,” continued Romero. ”We are using one-quarter commedia masks that we are making ourselves for Pantalone, Captain and Lion. After doing some research, Cullen Mitchell came to rehearsal trying an Italian accent, then he read some more and saw that the Captain was often played Spanish, so he switched accents.

“Not to be outdone, Tehoni Naeole adopted an Italian accent for his character,” added Romero. “These two characters are the most comedic, large and stereotypic of the show and the two of them work well together.”

I asked Romero how she happened to discover the script and why she chose it for her students.

“I first did this play back in 2005. It was the first musical I did at Kamehameha. I came back to it because it is a delightfully funny version of the show, especially appealing for young audiences. I try to vary the style of work I select for both actors and audience,” she said. “I haven’t done children’s theater in a few years, so I wanted to make sure I gave the students the opportunity to experiment in the genre.”

I asked if the ancient tale still had a modern moral.

Quoting the show Romero shared, ” ‘A friendship that was won by a kindness that was done.’ It is a moral that is always relevant. Kindness, kindness, kindness — we all need reminding of this all the time.”

* Kamehameha Schools presents “Androcles and the Lion,” directed by Camille Romero, under the musical direction of Tana Larson. Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 28 through Nov. 4 at the Keopuolani Hale on the Kamehameha Schools Maui campus in Pukalani. Admission is free to all Kamehameha Schools productions.

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