I've been privileged enough to see many legendary performers ranging from Red Skelton, Sid Caesar, Julie Harris, Chita Rivera, Gary Sinise, Tony Bennett, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Ray Charles. I say this because I'm a relatively new columnist and I'd like to offer some perspective.
Last Friday's Maui debut by Ben Vereen was one of the finest performances I've ever seen. If you missed it don't fret, because it appears as if Mr. Vereen loves Maui as much as we loved him. My hunch is he'll be back. Hugs, tears and perma-smiles filled the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater lobby at show's end; there was a human need to acknowledge how perfectly special the evening was. It was only fitting that "For Good" from "Wicked" closed Vereen's show. Witnessing this master at work surely left the hearts of all in attendance"changed for good." How often do you see a performer get three standing ovations in the middle of a show?
There were at least three times I teared up and witnessed many other men pretend not to throughout the show, especially during his rendition of "My Way," equally as powerful as Elvis' or Sinatra's renditions. Ben Vereen is a song; he embodies the history of black entertainers, and you can envision Bert Williams, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr. and even Chicken George still alive through him, like a conduit. Vereen spoke of God and the importance of supporting the arts most eloquently throughout the evening. His talent is indeed, divine, and I believe like his mentor, Sammy Davis Jr., he survived an accident that should have killed him because that talent needed to stay here with the rest of us.
Baldwin High School student Cerz Souza (Tracy Turnblad in Baldwin’s production of “Hairspray”) gets some tips from Broadway and screen legend Ben Vereen during a visit to the school last Thursday.
CLAY LOGUE photo
“The Outsiders” at King Kekaulike High School: Levi Young (from left), Dylan Thomas, Shawn Naone-Burder, Joshua Berman and Tully O’Reilly.
King Kekaulike Drama Club photo
Jennifer Rose plays one of the colorful characters caught in ProArts’ “Mousetrap.”
On the Thursday before the show, Vereen visited Baldwin High School where he spoke with more than 100 students. Vereen's intimate talks are about much more than theater and acting. Baldwin's theater department director Linda Carnevale invited other classes to attend as well.
"He shared his knowledge, stories, quotes and the humor really grabbed the students' attention. He gave a lot of inspirational and uplifting stories that all the kids could relate to. He talked about believing in your own strength and greatness to achieve whatever you put your mind to," said Carnevale.
Vereen asked the students to "grab a hold of your greatness," and "whatever you choose to do, show up and be prepared." For those Baldwin drama students, he offered: "Acting is an inside job; everything you do, from getting up in the morning and deciding what to wear to deciding what you will have for breakfast is creating. It starts with a thought."
In his Friday concert as Vereen approached the last line of "For Good," he choked up too, replacing the final lyric with a breathy "Goodnight, Maui."
"The Outsiders" opens tonight at King Kekaulike High School. Drama instructor Chris Kepler has branded King Kekaulike as the school that presents gritty teen dramas. "The Outsiders" was written in the late 1960s by real-life high school student S.E. Hinton. Hinton had witnessed a greaser boy brutally beaten by the jocks of her school and was so traumatized by the event, she began writing her book that night. It was published a year later while Hinton was still attending high school in Tulsa, Okla.
The book is still considered extremely controversial and was banned from schools for many years. In fact, even today it remains ranked in the American Library Association's Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, still banned in some school districts some 45 years later.
Francis Ford Coppola directed a film version in 1983, which has gone on to attain cult classic status as well as featuring one of the most amazing cast of unknown actors at the time: C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Leif Garrett, Tom Waits and Diane Lane (plus a small cameo by Hinton herself).
Hinton's story focuses around Ponyboy, a member of the Greasers gang. He is leaving a movie theater when a group of Socs (pronounced Sew-shiz) jumps him. His older brothers Darry and Sodapop save him. Ponyboy is jumped again while he is with his friend Johnny, and a terrified Johnny stabs one of the Socs, accidentally killing him. Brother Darry helps the two hide out in an abandoned church and they pass the time by reading, first "Gone With The Wind" and then the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost. A gang war and a church fire heighten the drama, and the tale is also known for its tearful tragic ending as well as the classic quote, "Stay gold, Ponyboy."
Director Chris Kepler's student cast features Katarina Kress, Joshua Berman, Dylan Thomas, Shawn Naone-Burger, Tully O'Reilly, Levi Young, Ashley Erickson and Jazmin Santiago.
* The King Kekaulike Drama Club presents "The Outsiders," adapted by Christopher Sergel based on the 1967 coming-of-age novel by teenage author S. E. Hinton. Performances in the King Kekaulike cafetorium are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, Friday through Feb. 12. Tickets are available at the door only, $8 for adults, $4 for students; they go on sale a half-hour before showtimes.
Also this week
Celebrate First Friday tonight at the Historic Iao Theater with a free screening of "Grease" (1978), starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The countdown to Maui's "Grease" starts at the monthly Wailuku town party with an audience-encouraged singalong (follow the bouncing ball) to the classic film. Costumed cast members from the upcoming production will be on hand and discounted tickets to Maui OnStage's production will be available to those in attendance. Preceding the screening will be a live filming of a 1950s-inspired Kit Kat Club Cabaret performance.
* Doors open at 6 p.m.; the screening begins at 8 p.m. "Grease" is rated PG-13 and may not be appropriate for young children.
Martha Graham Dance Company, the oldest dance company in America, is coming to the MACC's Castle Theater at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. A leader in the development of contemporary dance since its founding in 1926, Graham led her company to expand contemporary dance's vocabulary of movement and forever altered the scope of the art form. In this production, titled 'Prelude and Revolt," you'll see a montage of Graham's work with narration, providing a history of this iconic artist. It charts the era when Martha Graham burst onto the scene and brings her company to the present day.
* Tickets are $12, $42 and $55, plus applicable fees. To purchase, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at mauiarts.org.
ProArts Inc. presents "The Mousetrap," a murder mystery play by Agatha Christie Feb. 17 through March 4 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. "The Mousetrap," the longest-running play in history, is the tale of eight suspected murderers snowed in at a wealthy British manor. Shhh, it's a theater tradition to keep the ending a secret.
Directed by Kristi Scott, it features Rose Roselinsky, Dale Button, Mark Collmer, Jennifer Rose, Christopher Rose, Dylan Bode, Felicia Chernicki and Frances Tau'a.
* Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Reserved seats for adults are $20; students 18 and younger are $15. Ask about the ProArts $15 Kama'aina Nights with valid Hawaii ID. For reservations or more information call 463-6550 or visit proartspacific.com.
ONO! Returns with February's "Happily Ever After??" at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13. By popular demand, Lee and Beth Garrow return to present another St. Valentine's Day-themed ONO! with romantic comedy vignettes and songs featuring many returning cast members from last year's "Couples." Performers include Ute Finch, Gracie Clark, Rueben Carrion, Dylan Bode, Sharleen Lagattuta, Alexis Dascoulias and Steven Dascoulias. Roses will be available with a $5 donation to Maui OnStage.
* The free ONO! performances are at the Historic Iao Theater every second Monday of the month. For more information about upcoming ONO! performances, visit mauionstage.com.