Unlikely heroes … save the day

‘My Three Angels’ is welcome relief for too much ‘perfect family’ holiday fare

Mark Levine (from left), Jim Oxborrow and Orion Milligan star in the ProArts Playhouse holiday presentation, “My Three Angels.” Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 1 through 17 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com. Jack Grace photo

Mark Levine (from left), Jim Oxborrow and Orion Milligan star in the ProArts Playhouse holiday presentation, “My Three Angels.” Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 1 through 17 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com. Jack Grace photo

The anti-Christmas story did not originate with American films such as “Bad Santa,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or even “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The idea of a family or individual filled with anxiety and impending doom on Christmas Eve dates back to the writings of Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Anderson, O. Henry and, most likely, long before that.

Though not as well known as “A Christmas Carol,” “The Little Match Girl,” “The Gift of the Magi,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Kihei’s ProArts Playhouse’s upcoming show “My Three Angels” is a classic anti-Christmas comedy-drama of a strained family muddling through their little Christmas.

The adapted English version is based on the 1952 French play, “La Cuisine des Anges,” by Albert Husson. The following year Samuel and Bella Spewack’s adaptation debuted on Broadway and in 1955 Paramount Pictures reunited Humphrey Bogart and “Casablanca” director Michael Curtiz for a holiday film release of this anti-Christmas story sometimes categorized as a black comedy.

In French Guiana at Christmastime in 1910, three Devil’s Island trustee convicts are employed as roofers at Ducotel’s General Store. The roof winds up being the least of the Ducotel’s problems. Melancholia and financial ruin looms over their heads, as do the three convicts who have a bird’s eye view of their plight. Additionally, due to arrive from France, is an evil-minded cousin and his cold-blooded nephew who had jilted the Ducotel’s daughter to pursue an heiress. Moved by the season, the unlikely “Three Angels” descend to make matters right, even if some considerable wrongdoing is required.

“I had never heard of it, but once I read the script I said ‘Yes’ immediately,” said Francis Tau’a, director of the local production. “It’s a sweet, timeless story of hope. What hit me right away was that the Ducotels are good people that do everything the right way and get taken advantage of. Felix (the father, played by Anthony Rummel) never loses hope and believes everything will work out just as it’s supposed to.

Ricky Jones (left) and Sara Jelley bring holiday magic to Maui with the premiere of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” opening this weekend at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Jack Grace photo

Ricky Jones (left) and Sara Jelley bring holiday magic to Maui with the premiere of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” opening this weekend at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Jack Grace photo

“Sometimes we need a friend in our tribe that lives just on the fringes of our right and wrong boundaries,” added Tau’a.

“Sometimes you have to make your own luck,” said Jim Oxborrow.

Oxborrow plays Joseph, a disreputable businessman imprisoned for fraudulently fleecing investors of their fortunes. His convict cohorts are Jules (Mark Levine), who murdered his wife, and young Alfred (Orion Milligan) who murdered his stepfather. I asked Tau’a why audiences enjoy anti-heroes and anti-Christmas stories.

“It humanizes our fairy tales,” he said. “I think that’s what appeals to us. There is a pretty gray area between a villain and a hero. Life is full of choices and you have to live with the consequences of those choices. What immediately sold me on the script were three quiet, human moments between Jules and Emilie Ducotel (the mother, played by Christina Kailiponi).”

“She looks at her life through his eyes,” said Kailiponi. “Seeing her life through a convict makes Emilie realize what a blessed life she has.”

The Ducotel’s misfortunes crescendo on Christmas Eve, prompting the convicts to intervene. Felix’s smarmy cousin and business sponsor, Henri Trochard (Lee Garrow), arrives in the colony to seize the shop in the same way he had previously swindled Felix in France. Paul (Elisha Cullins) is Henri’s unlikable nephew and the unworthy beloved of Felix and Emilie’s daughter, a broken-hearted Marie Louise (Hana Valle).

Inspired to rehabilitate themselves through altruism, the acutely flawed and unconventional Magi resolve to put to good use the very gifts that landed them in prison. Joseph, the forger and con artist, sets his sights upon selling the store’s slow-moving stock and cooking the books, while cool-headed Jules and the passionate Alfred seek to patch family fissures and mend a broken engagement.

“Part of the story’s charm is this twist of fate. It’s a different kind of Christmas story. It’s the luck of the draw that we get these three convicts to fix the roof. We find hope and help in the unlikeliest of places,” said Kailiponi.

“I think people need to believe at Christmastime and we all want to believe in hope,” Tau’a agreed. “This script is a little gem and it’s just as relatable to us now. It’s been a rough year and we all need a good laugh.”

“Everyone will be rooting for the convicts and it’s just so funny, unexpectedly funny,” added Oxborrow.

“It’s the ‘Grinch’ meets ‘A Wonderful Life’,” summarized Tau’a.

This week

Maui OnStage presents the Hawaii premiere of Ian Fleming’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” with music and lyrics by Richard and Robert Sherman (“Mary Poppins”), adapted by Jeremy Sams and Ray Roderick, directed by David Kaye, choreographed by Erin Kowalick and under the musical direction of Steven Dascoulias.

When Jeremy (Kanoa Gorring) and Jemima (Dakota Welch), the children of Caractacus Potts (Ricky Jones), plead for him to save an old race car from the fiery furnace, Potts sets about restoring it and all soon discover the car has magical properties, including the ability to float and fly. Trouble occurs when the evil Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria (Keith Welch) desires the magic car for himself and the family joins forces with Truly Scrumptious (Sara Jelley) and batty Grandpa Potts (Dale Button) to outwit the dastardly Vulgarians.

Adapted from the 1968 MGM movie musical, this family-friendly stage version features all of the familiar film soundtrack songs including “Hushabye Mountain,” “Toot Sweets,” “Me ‘Ol Bamboo,” “Posh!,” “The Roses of Success,” “Chu-Chi Face” and the title track.

* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, with special 2 p.m. matinee performances on Dec. 2 and 9. For more information or to purchase tickets for any Maui OnStage performance, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.

Upcoming

Colleen Ballinger is bringing her wacky Miranda Sings character to Maui with “Miranda Sings Live . . . You’re Welcome Tour.” Ballinger created the character to parody the young, self-absorbed singers with more far more confidence and vibrato than talent. Miranda is known for her overdrawn red lips, questionable advice about singing and life, deluded self-confidence and over-the-top rants about her personal problems.

* Performance is at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 in the Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Tickets are $49.50 with a $75 VIP package available (plus applicable fees). VIP tickets include a pre-show meet and greet at 5 p.m. with the artist and a souvenir laminate and photo. To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org. This performance contains adult content and is not appropriate for children.

*****

The King Kekaulike Dramaaticans present “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” adapted for the stage by Kristin Sergel, based on the book by Anita Loos and directed by Chris Kepler. In Loos’ chic and modern 1925 novel, Miss Lorelei Lee intends to be wealthy, armed with the philosophy that “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” Determined to marry millionaire Gus Esmond, Lorelei and her best human friend Dorothy travel by luxury liner to Paris. En route, the girls are stalked by a private detective who has been hired by Esmond’s father to expose Lorelei as just another gold-digger.

* Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Dec. 8 through 16 and 3 p.m. Dec. 17 in the cafetorium at the King Kekaulike High School campus in Pukalani. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and are available at the door 30 minutes before the show begins.

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