Sometimes a little perspective is needed to gauge progress. It is refreshing to attend traveling performances at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center to better determine Maui's theatrical levels. Members of Honolulu's Cherry Blossom Cabaret addressed this topic last October while they were here for their "Boo!Lesque" performance.
"Maui is spoiled. You don't realize how good you have it," said singer-emcee Kitty Chow.
I found that hard to believe. They also observed that Maui venues, production values, talent and audiences were simply bigger and better. Last Friday I attended Kuma Kahua Theatre's "A Jivebomber's Christmas," and to my surprise, I have to agree.
Ben Vereen brings his “From Brooklyn to Broadway” to the MACC’s Castle Theater Friday.
The Oahu production was not bad, but it was flawed in comparison to the production values MAPA, ProArts and Maui OnStage deliver on a regular basis. That perspective leads me to believe that the state of Maui Theater is sound. Of course the flip side is the excellence of "Word Becomes Flesh" and what can be expected from Ben Vereen, setting a high bar for future aspirations.
Perhaps "A Jivebomber's Christmas" would have played better last month. Three actors from the cast were very strong, carrying the show through its weaker portions; Regina Lozano as Kei, Chevy Martinez as Jackson and Jessica Ka'uhane as Mitzi. "Jivebomber" did not suffer from a few weak links; where it missed the mark was in some questionable choices by director Stephanie Conching.
The period Japanese internment camp musical-drama could have had many more touching and powerful dramatic moments; I could hear them in the script, but not enough of them surfaced on the stage. The set and costume choices were too bare-bones for my taste, and suddenly breaking into song felt awkward and out of period juxtaposed to the production's audio recordings of classic big-band songs.
In fairness, I can imagine the logistics of packing a show in a few suitcases and performing in a new theater 24 hours later. "Jivebomber" was a could've, should've experience with a great deal of Hawaii hit show potential.
Potential is a slippery slope. Local actors Francis Tau'a and Derek Nakagawa are hard at work creating their new show, "Lesser Ahi." The MAPA production will be directed by David C. Johnston at the Steppingstone Playhouse. The original comedy is a local take on "Greater Tuna." Tau'a and Nakagawa will play more than 20 characters each, essentially the entire community of a Hawaiian town.
"It's pidgin to the max," Nakagawa offered. "It will help if you've lived in Hawaii for a while."
Tau'a added, "We're writing it separately and piecing it together; fitting in costume change opportunities and moving scenes around."
Tau'a is also in rehearsals for ProArts' upcoming "The Mousetrap" and guest appearing in Baldwin's "Hairspray."
"We have to have meetings to plan meetings," he said.
I asked if there was an improv element to the show.
"Working with Francis is always an improv experience" said Nakagawa. Keep posted for more details about the world premiere of MAPA's original comedy slated to open in the late spring.
And then there's Steve-O (cue the theme to "Maude" in your head). I'm pretty sure a few Maui Liquor Commission laws were skirted, based on what a performer is allowed to do when alcohol is present. On the other hand, alcohol was a much needed presence. Although there was one particular image I wish I hadn't seen and can never erase from my brain, I was pleasantly surprised by Steve-O's captivating stage presence at Oceans Beach Bar and Grill in Kihei Saturday.
Very few comics can hold an audience's attention and keep them laughing for 90 minutes, but Steve-O delivered and his crowd loved every minute. Yes, it was very R-rated, but he is extremely funny and his observational comedy is no more shocking than Dane Cook's or Wanda Sykes'. We were a good hour in before he began the stunts, which included cutting his tongue with lightbulb shards, squeezing an entire lemon into his eyes and my favorite, which required an audience volunteer to spit lamp oil across his flaming head. His advice? "Dude, don't swallow any of that or (bowel movement portion of the quote omitted)."
"Welcome to the Future Slam" at Casanova Makawao tonight. Maui Poetry Slam promoter Ellen Peterson teams with Source Interactive Arts Festival for a futuristic event featuring "Source" DJs and artists. To participate, poets must sign up by 9:45 p.m. to compete for the $100 cash prize; original poems must not exceed three minutes. Props, costumes, group pieces, and musical accompaniment are encouraged. Aly Cardinalli and Maui OnStage's Flash Dancers will be guest artists.
* Tickets at the door are $5 before 9:30 p.m., $10 after. The annual multimedia art festival "Source 2012: Circus of Dreams" happens Feb. 17 through 20 in Keanae, Maui. For details, visit source maui.com.
Don't miss a once-in-a-life experience, "From Brooklyn to Broadway" with Ben Vereen as he recreates great stage moments from his amazing career at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Castle Theater at the MACC. Vereen is currently workshop 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. To purchase last-minute tickets, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at mauiarts.org.
King Kekaulike Drama Club presents "The Outsiders," adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel based on the 1967 coming-of-age novel by teenage author S. E. Hinton. Chris Kepler directs. Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 3 through 12 at the King Kekaulike cafetorium.
* Tickets are available at the door only, a half-hour before showtimes $6 for adults, $4 for students
Martha Graham Dance Company, the oldest dance company in America, is coming to Castle Theater at the MACC at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7. A leader in the development of contemporary dance since she founded the company in 1926, Graham expanded contemporary dance's vocabulary of movement and forever altered the scope of the art form. This production, "Prelude and Revolt," presents a montage of Graham's work with narration, from the start to the present day.
* Tickets are $12, $42 and $55 plus applicable fees, available from the MACC as above.
There's still time to submit your one-act play or performance piece for the Maui Fringe Festival, whose deadline has been extended to Feb 7. Details can be found at the Maui OnStage website. The one-act plays must be 60 minutes or less for the three-day theater marathon to be held Memorial Day weekend.
* To submit, mail a copy of your original script along with a $20 submission fee to Maui OnStage, 68 N. Market St., Wailuku 96793. For more information and a printable application visit mauionstage.com.