Sharing Mana‘o

As I write this, Hurricane Lane is heading our way. Hopefully by the time you read this, the good fortune we Mauians have enjoyed in recent years will hold out, and Lane will have veered away or petered out.

Just in case, I joined dozens of shoppers in stocking up on emergency supplies and filling my gas tank. So now I can resume preparations for a much more pleasurable adventure: heading “Into the Woods” at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

After its Broadway premiere 30 years ago, the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical won three Tony Awards, a Grammy, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical. The Disney film adaptation was released in 2014 and received numerous Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Although I am admittedly biased, I must say that this production by the Maui Academy of Performing Arts will prove equally praiseworthy.

Director David Johnston has assembled an A-list cast and imbued each performer and crew member with his vision and passion for theater that, as MAPA’s mission states in part, enriches individuals and builds community. Johnston, MAPA’s executive and artistic director, has been called, half-jokingly, “the director of darkness” due to his apparent preference for shows that probe the shadowy side of humanity. Compared to the most recent MAPA summer musicals, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Into the Woods” is rather whimsical, but no less cautionary.

The familiar folks venturing into the woods in pursuit of their wishes include more than a dozen favorite fairy tale characters: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (and his beanstalk) and others. But this is not a bedtime story for your youngster, or for the faint at heart. Violence and greed, lust and deception, truth and consequences permeate the woods, where the underlying message is “careful what you wish for!” Fortunately, “ITW” also features wicked humor and delightful musical numbers. And, of course, a happy ending . . . although — spoiler alert! — not for my character, The Giant.

Playing the only featured role without a singing part, I’ve had the sweet luxury of watching and hearing the performances guided by Musical Director Gary Leavitt. Our vocal leads, Kirsten Otterson, Leighanna Locke, Logan Heller, Lina Krueger, Casey Hughes and Kiegan Otterson, have given me chicken skin and teary eyes at every rehearsal. The supporting cast and pit orchestra are also top-notch.

Audience members who were dazzled by the elaborate sets of “Les Miserables” or the lavish costumes of “Evita” (two other MAPA summer productions) will not be disappointed in this year’s production values, overseen by Johnston and Hoku Pavao, MAPA’s assistant artistic director.

Costume Designer Jojo Siu and her assistant, Laarnie Barcelon, have created a wondrous wardrobe for the cast of 30-plus, from the pair of utterly charming princes to the spritely druids who dwell in the magnificent forest crafted by Scenic Designer Jamie Tait.

Longtime MAPA supporters Mark Astrella and Matt Moreau (lighting design) and Joe Arias (sound design) again contribute their technical magic. Choreographer Yezzi, Production and Stage Manager Angel Emerson Carter, Assistant Stage Manager Kristie Lickliter and college interns Carly Anders and Elise Joyner round out the production team.

If I seem star-struck, it’s because I’m still marveling at being cast in this show, my first appearance in a production of this magnitude in Castle Theater. True, I’m no stranger to either the MACC or MAPA, having performed many times in various roles with each entity. But the MAPA summer musicals at the MACC are, to me, at the highest level of artistic alchemy. Now, after five years, I can check it off my bucket list.

“Into the Woods” opens Friday and runs for two weekends only. I hope you’ll join us — and I pray Lane does not.

Into the woods; you have to grope

But that’s the way you learn to cope.

Into the woods to find there’s hope

Of getting through the journey . . .

Into the woods, then out of the woods —

And happy ever after!

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.

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