Striking a chord

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

For singer, actress and vocal instructor Danielle Mealani Delaunay, it’s all about the music. KASEY KERBOX photo

Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time — and for the right reason. Just ask Danielle Mealani Delaunay, whose unexpected brush with fame at the age of 5 unleashed a reservoir of talent.

That year, Delaunay accompanied her family to Honolulu so her older sister could audition for a small part in the 1989 “Baywatch” pilot movie, “Panic at Malibu Pier.” But on the day of the casting call, Delaunay, who was just along for the ride, caught the eye of the casting director, who asked if she would audition for the part her sister wanted. A few weeks later, Delaunay made her acting debut as Cindy, a drowning girl who is rescued from a rip current by David Hasselhoff and his fellow “Baywatch” lifeguards. (And if you’re wondering, her sister didn’t hold a grudge.)

In the years that followed, Delaunay landed more film and television roles, as well as modeling and commercial acting gigs. Then, at the age of 12, she discovered a new passion: singing. Over the next two years, she auditioned for musical theater productions and entered (and won) karaoke contests statewide.

And that’s when life took yet another unexpected turn.

Not long after she turned 14, Delaunay spotted a newspaper article about a Sony Music Entertainment Japan-sponsored karaoke contest on Oahu and promptly mailed off an audition package. To her delight, she was selected to compete, and although she made it to the final round, she didn’t win the contest.

Delaunay will play literary heroine Esmeralda in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” presented by the Maui Academy of Performing Arts in partnership with The Makana Aloha Foundation. PETER SWANZY photo

But a few weeks later, she received a surprising phone call: Delaunay was asked to join Coconuts Musume (“Coconuts Girls”), an all-girl J-Pop (Japanese pop) band made up of members from Hawaii. Suddenly catapulted into pop stardom, Delaunay split her time between Hawaii and Tokyo, where she recorded songs, appeared on TV shows and in commercials, and performed for thousands of adoring fans.

Four years later, at the age 18, she decided to say goodbye to Japan and rejoin her family on Maui. The singing and acting bug followed her home, and after a few performances on Maui, she headed to Los Angeles to study voice and music. Delaunay went on to earn a graduate degree in musical theater from the Guildford School of Acting at the University of Surrey and began teaching private voice lessons in London.

“I fell in love with teaching,” she said. “It was natural fit for me.” So, when she moved back to Maui with her husband and young son in 2009, she picked up where she left off across the pond and created the Danielle Mealani Delaunay Voice Studio. Since then, she’s taught private voice lessons to students of all ages and abilities, as well as collaborative group lessons for kids and music classes at Haleakala Waldorf School.

But Delaunay does more than just teach her students how to hit the high notes: As a certified Vocology in Practice instructor, she helps them build stronger voices so they can make vocal range choices (as opposed to being “boxed in” as a soprano, alto or otherwise). Founded by an otolaryngologist, vocology, among other things, focuses on the nature of speech and language pathology, defects of the vocal tract, the remediation of speech therapy and voice training.

Delaunay was among the first cohort of Vocology in Practice instructors, an international network of voice professionals. Through the science and practice of vocal habilitation, she explained, “You can create a consistent, clear and healthy sound from the bottom of your range to the top.”

Clearly, Delaunay is in her element when she’s working with students in her voice studio, but not long after returning home to Maui, she says an old familiar feeling began to creep in. “I was yearning to be back on stage again,” she said. “It happens about every two years . . . that’s when I’m ready for a new role.”

In 2013, Delaunay starred in Maui OnStage’s production of “Shout! The Mod Musical,” and two years later (and right on schedule), she graced the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater stage as Peron’s Mistress in the Maui Academy of Performing Arts’ production of “Evita.” “It was my first show with MAPA and I loved everything about the experience,” she said. “MAPA is a like a family — and it’s a good family to have.”

So, when Delaunay heard that MAPA was holding auditions for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (which is based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel and features songs from the Disney movie of the same name) in May, she pounced on the opportunity — and landed the role of Esmeralda. “Once you start doing a show, you start loving the character,” she said. “And this character is easy to love.”

Delaunay has been pulling double duty this summer: In addition to preparing for her role in “Hunchback,” she also served as the musical director for “Disney’s Mulan, Jr.,” a stage musical performed by the students of MAPA’s Summer Musical Theatre Camp. “There’s been a lot of Disney in my life lately,” she laughed. “It’s been a lot of fun. I really enjoy the process. I get excited when it’s time to leave my house and drive to rehearsals.”

That being said, it’s a safe bet that Maui will be seeing more of Delaunay after “Hunchback’s” final curtain call. “I feel at home when I’m on stage,” she said. “It fulfills me; it makes me happy.”

MAPA Live’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” runs Aug. 25 through 27 and Sept. 1 through 3 in the Castle Theater. Due to mature language and themes, the show is recommended for ages 12 and older. To purchase tickets, call 242-SHOW or visit www.mauiarts.org. For more information about the Danielle Mealani Delaunay Voice Studio, visit www.ddvs.info.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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