It's going to be quite a busy February for Maui theater as no less than seven separate youth and adult productions are slated to open next month. Luckily Maui's audience base and talent pool both seem to be growing with each passing season. When a talented young actor moves to Maui, my initial reaction is one of excitement. After all, live entertainment thrives on the infusion of new blood, but my first question is always, why Maui?
I recently spoke with local actor Eric Peterson, who shared his whys with me.
"I always had two dreams," said the New Jersey native, "to live in Hawaii and work in the theater."
Peterson's family objected to his moving so far away from home so he ended up pursuing a life in the theater first. Eric's big break was doing summer stock with the illustrious Paper Mill Playhouse of New Jersey, whose list of alumni over the past 70-plus years ranges from Tallulah Bankhead to Jane Fonda to the professional debut of Kristin Chenoweth.
Remarkably, Peterson was cast out of his very first New York cattle-call audition in the role of Herb for Theater Works national tour of "Junie B. Jones." He went on to perform for hundreds of thousands of children in huge theaters all over the United States.
"I had callbacks with several other companies, but I just couldn't seem to hit that next level." Frustrated, Eric saved up $1,000 and headed to Maui with nothing but a suitcase. Discouraged with a regular job, he called the Maui Academy of Performing Arts on the same day he gave his notice. He was called in to audition and 24 hours later was hired to join their children's show tour.
"The tour with Theater Works versus MAPA was night and day. I was used to these megatheaters. With MAPA, you're right there in the classroom, you can truly connect with the kids."
In 2011 Peterson also played the title role in MAPA's "Theophilus North," Sohovik in "Damn Yankees" and chorus in Maui OnStage's "Chicago." "It ("Theophilus North") came at a perfect time of rediscovering myself and examining my own wanderings, which brought me to Maui. I have a love-hate relationship with acting. Some characters you play bring out aspects of yourself, self-esteem issues, that's cathartic, but it can be painful night after night."
At the time of this interview, Eric had just been cast to play Danny in the upcoming Maui OnStage production of "Grease."
I asked if he was excited to take on such a well-known role. "I wanted to play Danny in high school, but I was cast as Doody. I feel like I've come full circle to play Danny; it allows me to step out of my comfort zone and become a different type of character."
Before being offered the role, Peterson contemplated a move back to the East Coast.
"I'm just blown away by the amount of theater on Maui, the opportunities, all the talent that is here and the welcoming theater ohana."
Eric Peterson teams with fellow New York-trained actor Jacqui Sherwood as Sandy and New York-based director Brian Swasey in Maui OnStage's "Grease" Feb. 24 through March 11 at the Historic Iao Theater.
"Ruthless! The Musical" reopens at the ProArts Playhouse Friday and runs weekends through Jan. 15. Producer Jonathan Lehman and director Aly Cardinalli have given Maui theatergoers something new, something metropolitan. "Ruthless!" might be a bit too wacky and wild for some, but it is insanely funny, original and polished.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays. Reserved seats for adults are $25, students 18 and younger $20. Ask about the ProArts $20 Kama'aina Nights with valid Hawaii ID. For reservations or more information call 463-6550 or visit proartspacific.com. "Ruthless! The Musical" contains mild adult content.
Power Up Comedy presents an evening with comedy hypnotist Don Barnhart. Barnhart is regular Las Vegas performer and tours nationally as well. He has been heralded by The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Howard Stern. The Power Up Comedy All-Stars will open the show at Stella Blues in Kihei at 10 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets are $15 at the door. For more information about comedy nights at Stella Blues, call 874-3779.
Maui OnStage continues its free theater series ONO! with "Outspoken," a teen poetry slam on Monday. Poets will include Levi Young, Isaac Rauch, Ashley Erickson, Dylan Thomas, Marissa Godinez, Jaya Bauer, Alima Wooley, Rachel Simmons, Kat Kress, Feona Wais, Robell Jacobs and Mike Minkleron, hosted by Shawn Naone-Burger.
The free ONO! performances are at the Historic Iao Theater, 6:30 p.m. every second Monday of the month. For more information, contact Maui OnStage at 244-8680 or visit mauionstage.com.
"One Hot Winter's Night," an evening of sexy, saucy and bawdy song and dance, hits the Historic Iao Theater at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13. It features live performances by some of Maui's best entertainers including Lia Krieg, Casey Murphy, Jonna Ahn, Natalie Raynes, Mark Bolden and the fabulous Kit Kat Club Cabaret; comedy by Chino La Forge and live music by the Iao Orchestra.
"One Hot Winter's Night" is an adult-themed nostalgic burlesque show, and not appropriated for children younger than 17. Tickets are $20 at the door; for more information or to make reservations, call 244-8680.
The New Shanghai Circus returns to the MACC! Chinese acrobatic skills have been passed on through generations. Building on the traditional performances, artists of the New Shanghai Circus add layers of complexity with new techniques and spectacular stunts, thrilling audiences around the globe. Always a family favorite, three shows will be presented in Castle Theater at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan.16, and at 4 and 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan.17.
Tickets are $12, $20 and $26 plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or mauiarts.org.
Don't miss a once-in-a-life experience, an evening with Broadway living legend Ben Vereen in Castle Theater at the MACC at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27. Vereen is currently touring his latest musical project, "Tenacity," in preparation for an eventual Broadway run. The actor-singer-dancer and Tony Award-winner is internationally renowned for his performance in Bob Fosse's "Pippin," and in his Emmy- nominated role of Chicken George in "Roots." Additional Broadway credits include "Hair," "Sweet Charity," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Chicago" and "Wicked."
Tickets are $12, $37, $47, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC as above.