Maui Connections

A lot of us are still savoring the afterglow of “Miss Saigon” after its triumphant two-weekend run in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater.

Following last summer’s “Les Miserables,” MAPA Artistic Director David Johnston is establishing a new Maui tradition, bringing Broadway epics to the Castle Theater stage. He has to count on local talent in place of $7.5 million Broadway budgets, but the audience’s emotions get just as touched.

Choreographer Andre Morisette had a lot to do with creating the kaleidoscope of impressions and emotions that transported the audience back to the last days of the Vietnam War, where this love story is set. Sharon Zalsos is Kim, the innocent but war-scarred 17-year-old girl from the country making her “debut” at the Dreamland nightclub in 1975 Saigon. The Viet Cong are advancing, the U.S. Embassy will fall in a matter of hours.

Ricky Jones brings an awesome voice to the role of Chris, the American G.I. who falls in love with her on first sight. In spite of his best intentions to marry her and bring her home, he is forced to abandon her as he is thrown on the last chopper out of Saigon.

Like “Madame Butterfly,” Kim maintains her love for him through the ensuing years of turbulent change in her homeland. The story of “Miss Saigon” unfolds through song on a stage where time is out of order and the sets are in constant change. Kepa Cabanilla-Aricayos as Engineer, Neil Clevenger as John, Leighana Locke as Ellen, Barry Kawakami as Thuy and Hoku Pavao as Gigi are the principals, lending their wonderful voices to telling the story that everyone in the audience knows in advance won’t end well.

A signature of Johnston’s considerable contribution to Maui’s cultural life comes not just in his artistic vision, but in his creative audacity in tackling projects on this scale – emotional as well as logistical – then leading local performers to new personal heights as they capture both the power and the nuance of their characters.

“Miss Saigon” left the audience with some tears but excited, wondering what he and the company will do to top it next year.

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Vietnam was a time as well as a place in American history, and audiences will have a chance to revisit it Sept. 12 when Robin Williams’ classic “Good Morning Vietnam” screens as the centerpiece of a free “movie and a message” from Mental Health Kokua, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Historic Iao Theater.

KONI radio host Joe Hawkins, comedian Bud Bowles, Ellen Peterson’s Kit Kat Club, musician Jamie Gallo and yours truly will participate in this tribute to the beloved actor/comic as well as to our vets.

Robin’s death has focused attention on the demons he battled while he was making us laugh. Suicide rates are spiraling; mental health issues affect huge numbers of us. The evening of laughter and mental health awareness is dedicated to creating a new legacy of not being afraid to reach out for help when you need it.

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Last Friday evening, across the street from “Miss Saigon,” emcee Tony Takitani led UH-Maui College faculty and staff in a surprise fond farewell to Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto, retiring after 41 years at the college. Spirits were high; roasting and toasting were in order for the visionary college leader who brought his wife, Gerrianne Sakamoto, to the podium to share in the outpouring of affection.

The new semester began Monday. We can look forward to months of careful planning interrupted by chaos. Good intentions and bad excuses. A never-ending search for can openers to pry open minds. Strategies to help students accomplish things they didn’t think they could.

For teachers, it’s all about turning on light bulbs above students’ heads.

Last week, I attended our annual beginning-of-the-year English Department meeting. Prompted by department head Laura Lees, we did what kids always do on the first day of school – we talked about what we did on summer vacation.

Besides being part of the team bringing TEDxMaui back to the MACC Sept. 28, Emma White went off to teach in China.

Eric Engh and his wife, Emily, went to Rome and Paris. Poet Iris Moon is training for two relays – the Lanai Channel Swim and the winding run to Hana. Jackie Pias Carlin has a new book, “Aunty’s Place,” set for release this fall. Paul Wood managed to complete two books.

When did the faculty get so smart, so talented, so cool? It’s beginning to feel like a real college over there.

Thanks, Clyde, for building it for us.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

Art takes many forms, but it’s almost always about telling stories.

Life’s like that, too.

Sometimes we can’t remember which parts we make up and which parts are true.

It doesn’t matter. Truth lurks in stories, either way.

Case in point: the new photo exhibit “Negatives Are to Be Stored” by Stefania Gurdowa and “A Piece of Land” by Andrzej Kramarz, which opened last weekend in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Schaefer International Gallery. It makes each person who steps into the gallery become the storyteller.

Kramarz is a Polish photographer who now lives on the Big Island and teaches at Hawaii Community College in Hilo. His large-format color photos show sylvan scenes in a rural Polish village. Tidy white homes, surrounded by well-manicured green lawns and orderly fields under comforting big skies.

But then you put on the earphones in front of each photo. You hear aging, accented voices of witnesses recounting the horrors that went on in this village during World War II. The voices recount in great detail fascist gangs brutalizing and killing Jews and other victims in the vicinity.

Before your eyes, the photos change. Echoes of cries in the night repaint the tranquil landscapes. You see the story.

On the other side of the gallery, eyes of hundreds of strangers look out from the walls, catching you in their unblinking gazes. Looking like passport shots, they, too, were taken in the little town of Debica between 1918 and 1939, where Gurdowa was a professional photographer – a rarity for women of her time. She captured the images on glass-plate negatives, pairing two portraits on each plate because of the expense of the materials.

The people in the photos wound up in concentration camps. The photographer was imprisoned in Auschwitz, but she survived the war. The plates were found hidden in her apartment walls following her death in 1968. Although the negatives were in horrible condition, Kramarz led a team restoring and archiving them into an award-winning book as well as the exhibit.

There are no captions, no names. Looking into the eyes of Gurdowa’s beseeching subjects or at Kramarz’s haunting landscapes forces your imagination to “write” the narratives – young lives and hopes senselessly lost, village elders led indifferently to their deaths. When you realize it all took place close to today’s Ukraine, the story jumps from dusty history to a living tragedy you might hear on CNN the next time you turn on your TV.

But there’s the sliver of hope, too, that witnessing horror might instruct us how not to repeat it. Slivers of hope are another reason for sharing our stories.

Artist Kramarz was engaging as he led the opening-night walk-through Saturday; Schaefer Gallery Director Neida Bangerter shared her musical side in her opening comments, a reminder that the Maui Academy of Performing Arts’ “Miss Saigon” was also opening that night at the MACC.

Among those on hand were Tony Novak-Clifford, Jackie Pias Carlin, Jennifer Owen, Tom and Michelle Sewell, Kathy and Barclay MacDonald, Susan Brown and Willa Romanchak. It was also great catching up with artist and former Schaefer Gallery Director Darrell Orwig, a wonderful storyteller himself, like the ringmaster in an imaginary circus.


Actor Robin Williams’ death last Monday remains the saddest story on many of our minds a week later. In our celebrity-centric world, there was no one like him – no one even close – who touched so many of us so deeply in so many ways.

The staggering statistics of others struggling with the same demons he faced, including depression, bouts of addiction and the onset of Parkinson’s disease leading up to his suicide, prompted his widow, Susan Schneider to express “the hope that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing.”

Mental Health Kokua will celebrate Williams’ life with a showing of his landmark “Good Morning Vietnam” Sept. 12 at the Historic Iao Theater. I’ll be participating in the event, coordinated by Dr. Tom Vendetti. We’ll also be doing an all-day Mental Health Kokua film and music festival Nov. 9 at the MACC. Planned long before Robin’s suicide, that event is dedicated to helping remove the stigmas long associated with mental illness in our society.

I was fortunate to talk to the comic genius in the 1980s in an interview you can watch on YouTube. Just search for “Rick Chatenever interviews Robin Williams,” or go to Robert Stone’s Maui Films link,

The five-minute clip reveals a rarely seen side of this unique human being blessed with a magical mind traveling at the speed of light, and a heart of fathomless compassion. We will never see his like again.


As I was putting the finishing touches on this column, word arrived that Maui’s own “Get a Job” had just taken top prize for the best feature film at Detroit’s Trinity International Film Festival. Written and directed entirely on Maui by local boy Brian Kohne, the rollicking madcap comedy starring Willie K and Eric Gilliom was chosen from more than 40 films from 14 countries at this festival honoring the spirit of independent filmmaking. Many readers of this column were part of the film as cast, crew and appreciative audiences.

Fans will also be excited to hear that the multitalented Gilliom will team up with his equally gifted sister – you may have heard of her, Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom – to reprise their roles as Frankenfurter and Janet in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” coming to the MACC Halloween night. Amy describes the production on Facebook as “a HUGE dance party, DJ, live band and the whole AMAZING cast, and the movie all woven together for a crazy 21-&-over extravaganza!!!”

It’s Halloween, so come in disguise.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

There’s nothing like a hurricane or two to put you in your place.

They’re historic events. Even when they don’t happen.

It’s been 22 years since Iniki slammed into Kauai. Last week, the state was looking into not one eye of a hurricane, but two – Iselle and Julio, sounding like a pair of aging ballroom tango partners as they approached the state.

It might have been the first time two hurricanes had been so close together. It was definitely the first time a Hawaiian storm like that played out in social media.

Iselle and Julio first showed up on our radar, literally, almost two weeks ago. In blazing reds and yellows, the twin storm centers were like the fiery eyes of an avenging deity, catching us in its gaze. The map of the state on the radar map was puny in the face of the swirling storms.

Now, despite packing winds that might top 100 miles per hour, hurricanes themselves travel REAL SLOWLY. Tracking them leaves plenty of time for meteorologists to speculate, TV newsrooms to create terrifying logos and ominous music, and the rest of us to head for Costco.

The agonizingly slow pace leaves plenty of time to ponder what-ifs? Or, if you prefer, to have a field day with your fears.

Facebook was the early-warning system. Scott Sherley reported customers almost coming to blows over last items on box-store shelves. Tony Novak-Clifford and Marnie Masuda alerted us to gridlock and/or NASCAR-style driving along Dairy Road and in adjacent parking lots.

But it was Shannon Wianecki’s post – “Isn’t there an old Hawaiian proverb: shopping for a hurricane may be more dangerous than riding out the storm?” – that got me into gear.

By last Wednesday, the hurricanes heading for Hawaii were hitting national newscasts. Under normal circumstances Facebook may be the domain of narcissism, voyeurism and never-ending selfies, but in an emergency it seemed a great way to let family and friends on the Mainland know we were OK, for at least as long as we actually were OK.

I addressed “Friends and family on the Mainland,” posting the first radar map. After taking down canopies and deck umbrellas, staking fragile garden stalks, stems and trees, securing lawn furniture and anything that could become airborne, I still had plenty of time on my hands.

Did I mention that hurricanes approach SLOWLY?

I refilled water jugs. I topped off the gas tanks in the car and truck, even though there was nowhere to go. So I got down to serious Facebooking, like a cyber Ernest Hemingway, reporting from the front.

It beat worrying. Especially when Thursday morning – potentially the first day of the storm – dawned with a rainbow over our deck. I posted the photo, “This is the way a hurricane begins, 7:59 a.m., Thursday.”

The little “Like” icon started lighting up. Curiously, although the posts were intended for Mainlanders, friends on Maui were responding too. Gail Nagasako, Barry Sultanoff, Bobby VanBatenberg and Teresa Skinner were among those reposting to their Mainland ohana. Hey, we’re OK out here . . .

When I posted a photo of a shelf full of candles, lighters and other emergency-preparedness items, I also included some Eastern philosophy saying that believing that we control nature is an illusion. We don’t. Get used to it. Things go smoother if you do.

The “Like” button started going off again. Like a Christmas tree.

By the time I posted the all-clear Friday morning, the cyber sigh of relief stretched all the way to the East Coast, and had been translated into at least one foreign language, all thanks to Facebook.

It wasn’t all clear for everyone, unfortunately. In Ulupalakua, stately eucalyptus trees had snapped like toothpicks and fallen by the thousands in the storm. I posted a photo of one tree, torn from the ground like a weed, whose tangle of roots was bigger than I was.

I reposted time-lapse radar images of Iselle dissipating as it hit the Big Island’s volcanoes. The heading was, “Iselle no match for Madame Pele’s might.” That hadn’t been Iselle at all, but Pele’s jealous, sea goddess sister Namakaokaha’i who was banished by Pele’s might, corrected UH Hawaiian Studies student Amanda Candens.

In about a week, social media had taken us from Costco alerts and traffic advisories to updating Hawaiian mythology.

Journalism has been called the rough draft of history. Now social media is the rough draft of the rough draft. Putting too much faith in technology is something we do at our peril. But we need our stories as much as ever. Maybe more.

When last seen, Julio was scampering away, heading north.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

How sweet it was when Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom came home to The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Thursday night.

The resort’s Anuenue Room had provided her first steady-paying job singing in its elegant, wood-paneled surroundings. That was around 20 years, 16 albums, five Grammy nominations and a couple dozen Na Hoku Hanohano Awards ago, noted emcee Clifford Nae’ole as he brought her to the stage.

The concert, billed as a homecoming, turned into one of those rare enchanted evenings. Most of the awards and recognition have been for Amy’s Hawaiian music – calling her the female voice of Hawaii wouldn’t be a stretch. But back in the room whose stage still bears dents from the 4-inch heels she wore at the beginning of her career, her song list and patter were reminders that the artist who grew up doing musical theater is equally at home with jazz and the great American songbook.

Her voice is rich and soulful. She turns song lyrics into stories that have you hanging on every word. She’s a captivating entertainer who knows how to work a room – sexy, funny, as self-deprecating as she is powerful. She exudes a sense of being comfortable with the woman she has become, a quality almost as awesome as all that talent.

With Sal Godinez providing just-right backing on piano, she artfully traveled through lyrics from “Someone to Watch Over Me” to “At Last,” bringing everyone to their feet at show’s end.

The concert kicked off Jazz Maui 2014, presented by the nonprofit Arts Education for Children Group. It’s one more way producer Bryant Neal is enriching the Maui community, this time sowing seeds of creativity – like those Amy had growing up – to grow the next generation of artists.

Illustrating the point, Amy’s young daughter, Madeline, danced hula to one of her mom’s songs.

A benefit art auction coordinated by Village Gallery’s Lynn Shue added to the sense that the evening was a mini Celebration of the Arts, like the one cultural adviser Nae’ole brings back to the resort each spring. George and Janet Allan made the drive down from Kula to be part of it, as did other Upcountry folks like Katie McMillan, Pete Papa, Jim Langford and Ka’anapali Beach Association Executive Director Shelley Kekuna, who didn’t have to drive as far to get there.

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Speaking of traveling, brilliant photographer and ace drone pilot Randy Jay Braun isn’t leading one of his usual photo adventures to Italy this summer. Instead, he took his 16-year-old son and 80-year-old father for some serious mountain climbing in the Dolomites, and some serious sights and tastes in Venice.

His 2,500 Facebook followers got to come along, too, for at least one mountain climbing adventure.

There are folks all over the world who know what Maui looks like, thanks to Randy’s unique way of framing visions and seeing things in new ways, touched with just a bit of magic.

It’s just as magical when he shows Maui folks what the rest of the world looks like.

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Traveling to a closer shore, Val Monson and DeGray Vanderbilt are bringing the photo exhibit “A Reflection of Kalaupapa: Past, Present and Future” home.

Featuring superb contemporary photos by Wayne Levin along with historical photos and six new photos by Val herself, the exhibit will soon be on view in Kalaupapa for a month before heading for “topside” Molokai, where it will be displayed for a year.

You may remember the exhibit from its run in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Schaefer International Gallery a few years ago, where it touched everyone who entered the gallery with heartbreaking echoes of the past, and the resilient spirit of the present in the remote, achingly beautiful settlement where Father Damien wasn’t the only saint.

Val’s new photos were added because the exhibit itself is making new connections between past and present Kalaupapa residents and long-lost relatives.

“We’re helping families reconnect,” says Val.

To learn more, visit Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa online.

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For all the local history and traditions the MACC has celebrated and helped preserve en route to its 20th anniversary this year, it has started some of its own. Maui Calls, its premier fundraiser, returns Friday, with great things to eat, drink and bid on. The 2015 Schaefer Portrait Challenge has set Sept. 20 as the submission date for Maui artists. And the ninth annual Ku Mai Ka Hula Competition – Maui’s own mini Merrie Monarch – returns Sept. 12 and 13.

When you’re an art center, the only thing better than presenting other people’s art is making some of your own. For details, visit

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.