My favorite thing in theater is a brand-new show. There's something exciting about being a part of the first few who get to witness new material. "Lesser Ahi," created by Derek Nakagawa and Francis Tau'a, is the brainchild of director David Johnson. He had seen ProArts' "Greater Tuna" last year, came up with the title and asked Nakagawa and Tau'a to write the tale with a local flavor. "Tuna" and "Ahi" both take place in a small community where two actors play all the characters, but that is where the similarities end. I sat down last week with Johnston, "the cast" and crew of "Ahi," who shared their process with me.
"While looking for a format my brother's wedding came up. We used that for the setting and to create the characters," said Nakagawa.
I asked if his family was aware of this.
Folks in “Lesser Ahi” bear a strong family resemblance since they’re all played by Derek Nakagawa and Francis Tau‘a
DAVID HESSEMER photo
"Surprise!" offered Nakagawa.
"It's written as an island spoof," said stage manager Tina Kailiponi. "We know these people. They're based on people we witness in our lives. Uncle Chin (a character from the show) is a custodian I saw at an elementary school. Last night we saw the entire family walking in the mall."
The fictional "Ahi" centers around a pair of fraternal twin brothers and the events leading up to a wedding. Brothers Andrew and Anden have not spoken in years; the family has been advised not to meddle because it is between the bothers. The conflict is that the entire family is secretly meddling.
I asked if they had a favorite character from the family. Tau'a jumped in: "Tutu, she's the mouthpiece of reason. She doesn't mince words."
"She's too old to waste time, " added Nakagawa. Tau'a and Nakagawa wrote the piece independently but when the scenes were put together they fit perfectly. "You couldn't tell who wrote what, " said Kailiponi.
I asked Johnston about the process of constructing a show from scratch.
"It's been a blast. They (Nakagawa and Tau'a) play off each other so well and it's so well written. The fun thing is we can add to it and change things because it is an original show. When I direct comedy, I seldom laugh during rehearsal, but with this one I can't stop!"
"It's exhausting," added Tau'a. "I'm exhausted every night but it's from laughing." "They (the characters) are fun to watch every night, I forget it's Francis. I really think it's Tutu there, almost like puppetry. There are so many levels to these characters. It's a rich stew, and even if the audience doesn't like it we've had so much fun being with them. "
* The world premiere of "Lesser Ahi," created by Francis Tau'a and Derek Nakagawa, directed by David C. Johnston, happens Friday, April 20. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 5 at Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Tickets are $16 adults, $14 seniors and $12 students. For reservations or more information, call 244-8760 or visit mauiacademy.org.
"Once Upon A Time" opens the ProArts production of "Cinderella," transporting last weekend's crowd of gleeful children via their glowing magic wands to fairy tale land. I'm not much of a "happily ever after" person. A season of my favorite plays would probably drive most regional theater companies into bankruptcy. I do, however, love watching children watch "happily ever after" and that's exactly what's happening at "Cinderella."
Casey Murphy is perfectly cast in the title role and she delights as always. A keiki mob surrounded her following the show as moms and dads took phone photos. Sarah Loney as the Fairy Godmother is also a kid favorite as she instructs them when to wave their magic wands. The dozens of glowing wands waving passionately are the real magical moments in "Cinderella."
Vinnie Linares reprises his role of Percival the Page extremely well and his energy keeps the production on track in between songs and special effects. Linares also gets some of the best punch lines, my favorite being his reference to the Baroness (Rose Roselinsky), Gauntine (Dale Button) and Pudgina (Kristi Scott) as "a bevy of beasties."
Jonathan Lehman's fractured fairy tales have quickly become a Maui children's theater tradition, serving an important need at an affordable price. Perhaps 10 or 20 years from now, future theater lovers can say they got started with "happily ever after" at the ProArts Playhouse, even if they grow up to be slightly cynical "Long Days Journey Into Night" people.
* "Cinderella" continues at the ProArts Playhouse through April 22. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 4 p.m. matinees Saturdays, and matinees at 1 and 4 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 for reserved seating or $10 for the keiki floor seating. For reservations or more information, call 463-6550 or visit proartspacific.com.
The Alexander Academy of Performing Arts presents "Peter Pan: A Dance Production," choreographed by Hallie Hunt-Armato, Amelia Nelson, Danelle Watson and Ashiya Corder. A cast of 160 dancers from beginners to advanced and ranging from age 3 to adult takes the stage this weekend in Lahaina. Kelsey Greenway plays the title role with Camille Erdman as Tinkerbell and Amelia Nelson as Captain Hook.
* Performances are 6 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Maui Theatre in Lahaina. Tickets are $30 and $25 for adults and $15 and $10 children. For reservations or more information call 878-8970 or visit alexan deracademy.vpweb.com.
Don't miss George Lopez's April 20 appearance in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Lopez is one of the most popular comics in America with a career that encompasses television, films and stand-up comedy. His last Maui stand-up performance was a huge, sold-out success inspiring this return engagement featuring all new material. The performance is intended for adults and contains mature content.
* Tickets are $43.50 and $58.50, plus applicable fees. To purchase tickets visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at mauiarts.org.
Maui OnStage presents "On Golden Pond" by Ernest Thompson at the Historic Iao Theater April 20 through May 6. The Tony- and Oscar-winning story is the heartwarming tale of Ethel and Norman Thayer, who spend each summer at their lakeshore home on Golden Pond.
* Performances are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $40, $22, and $15. Dinner packages are available with Caf O'Lei and Bistro Casanova. For reservations or more information, call 242-6969 or visit mauionstage.com.
Seabury Hall Performing Arts presents its 23rd annual recital, "Dance Showcase 2012," in the Performing Arts Studio the weekends of April 20 and 27. This year's showcase includes "Velvet Voices: The American Song Book" with pieces from every level of the dance and ballet classes. Dance teachers David Ward, Andre Morissette and Vanessa Cerrito have choreographed to music that will feature the lush voices of Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, The Manhattan Transfer, Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James.
* Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee April 29. Tickets are $11 adults, $9 senior citizens and $5 for students. For more information and reservations, call 573-1257.
The Performing Arts Learning Center and Baldwin High School Thespian Troupe present "Play On!" by Rick Abbott, directed by Linda Carnevale, April 20 through 29. This special production is open to only the Baldwin students honored with being Thespians.
"Play On!" is the story of a theater group trying desperately to put on a play in spite of Murphy's Law. Actors, technicians, and the director are all caught up in this madcap comedy.
* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. Saturday, April 21; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday April 28; and 5 p.m. Sundays at the Baldwin High School Loudon Mini-Theatre. Tickets are $10 adults, $8 seniors and $7 age 17 and younger.
The box office opens one hour before showtime. The Thespians Troupe will be hosting a Gala Fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. April 28 prior to that evening's performance that includes pre-show entertainment, desserts and beverages. Gala ticket prices are $17 adults, $15 seniors, $13 students ages 11 to 17, and $10 children age 10 and younger. All Proceeds will go toward this year's Thespian Troupe scholarships and next year's student New York trip.