There's a little used word that dates back to the showbiz boarding house days, a theatrical. I can think of no better word to describe Maui stage performer Dale Button.
When I arrived on Maui, Button was one of the first people to welcome me into the Maui theater ohana, and it's people like Button that make me never want to go back to the mainland.
I sat with Button last week to discuss his theater journey as he prepares for his latest role in Mel Brooks' "The Producers."
Dale Button has been a part of Maui theater since the early ’90s.
JACK GRACE photo
"I was cast in my third grade play but I tore a tendon playing kick ball, so my best friend ended up going on for me with book in hand," said Button about his first-ever role.
Button began performing at the age of two in the choir of his Lutheran Church in Chico, Calif.
"If I forgot a lyric, my brother would elbow me in the ribs and my grandmother would shake her head in embarrassment."
Button's formal training began when he returned to college at Chico State, where he was a music major.
"I had been working in restaurants since I was 16 and I wanted more out of life. I started with opera long before musical theater." His transition into musicals occurred with a spring production of "Guy & Dolls" over Chico's now defunct but infamous "Pioneer Days."
Orson Welles has a famous quote: "The only thing new to be learned in show business is from the people that don't know what they are doing."
When Button was in that college production of "Guys & Dolls," he looked to a fellow chorus member and said "watch this, I'm going to get another part." Immediately following the song "A Bushel and a Peck" the stage was covered in flower petals, Button walked on with a push broom and began sweeping up. At that point the director shouted out "Stop! What is your name?" Button answered and the director asked if he could do a Fred Astaire turn and dip the broom. He did and said, "like that?" She added the bit into the show.
"That's how you get more parts in a show," said Button. "But it can also get you in a lot of trouble." Button went on to appear in subsequent spring musicals including "My Fair Lady" and "Camelot." When some friends started up the Chico City Opera, Button was asked to join the troupe, playing the role of the Lord Executioner in Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado."
"My best friend had a band called Black Sand and he needed a back up singer," said Button when asked what brought him to Maui. "We played every Friday at Lopaka's. After a while I was in a deep funk and went to go see Eric Gilliom and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom in "The Rocky Horror Show" at the Iao Theater in 1992. "I said to myself, oh, this is what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm on the wrong side of the footlights." Button went on to join the chorus on several Maui productions until landing the lead in "Man of La Mancha" in 1993. "Don Quixote was one of my favorite roles, and Pseudolus in 'Forum,' and Hysterium in 'Forum' at the MACC, and 'Sweeney Todd,' and 'CATS,' well there are a lot of them."
I asked him if he had any influences and was surprised by his answer. "No, but I steal things all the time," said Button. "I'm the guy that dances and sings down the street swinging around a lamp post like Gene Kelly. Theater is an outlet for me, otherwise I'd just have work and sit at home watching old movies."
The always versatile Button has played a woman twice and an undercover British detective just in the past six months. I asked him about his upcoming role as a singing and dancing Nazi. "I think he's a little whacked (Franz Liebkind from "The Producers"). For one he talks to his birds, but then again I talk to my cats, so who am I to judge? My three years of German in college are paying off at least. He's crazy but he's fun. This is my creative outlet. I meet new people, make new friends and I get to be a little nuts."
When Button is not performing on Maui stages, you can catch him at Hali'imaile General Store five days a week. I once heard showbiz and restaurant legend, Joe Gannon, ask Button, "Why didn't you ever go to New York?" "Because I don't love New York," said Button. Thankfully for local theater and restaurant lovers, Button loves Maui.
Maui OnStage will present "The Producers," a Mel Brooks musical at the Historic Iao Theater July 6 through 29. Visit mauionstage.com.
Tickets are still available for "Wicked," by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman, based on the novel by Gregory Maguire. The national tour will be in Honolulu for a limited eight week touring engagement November 24 through January 16, 2013. "Wicked" will have eight performances per week at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, Tuesdays through Sundays. To purchase tickets for call (808) 593-2468 or visit magicspace.net/wicked.
Swing into summer with the "Sirens of Song" as Casey Murphy and Lia Krieg present and perform a 1940s style cabaret variety show featuring vocal divas Jonna Ahn and Nara Boone. Come enlist at the Hollywood Swing Canteen, a 1940s USO themed evening featuring swing, big band, and Hollywood glam.
Additional performers include the Kit Kat Club, Trevor Arnholt, visuals by Doug DeBoer, and scintillating sounds from maestro Scott Provonsha. The event features two full-service bars, catering by A Kat Creations and a pinup parade fashion show.
"Sirens of Song" happens Friday June 29 at the Maui Tropical Plantation. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the cabaret show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 with limited reserved table seating available for $25 per person. Advance tickets may be purchased online at hollywoodswing.eventbrite.com or at the door.
Comedian Mike Epps brings his national sold out comedy tour, "Mike Epps & Friends" to the Castle Theater Saturday June 30. Known for his quick wit and ability to blend hip hop with comedy, Epps hosted both the 2009 and 2010 BET Hip Hop Awards. He has also appeared in the films "All About the Benjamins," "Roll Bounce," "Guess Who," "The Honeymooners," "Hancock," and as Black Doug in "The Hangover." This performance is intended for mature audiences. Tickets are $25, $45, $55, and $65, plus applicable fees. To purchase tickets visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at mauiarts.org.
Maui Academy of Performing Arts with Auriol Naquin Flavell present their teen summer musical theatre camp production of "Narnia."
Step through the wardrobe into the enchanting world of Narnia as 51 young performers from age 12 through 20 bring C.S. Lewis' classic story to life.
The cast has been training and rehearsing daily under the expert guidance of directors Sally Sefton and David C. Johnston, musical director Kirsten Otterson, choreographer Amelia Nelson and acting teacher Francis Tau'a.
"Narnia" opens Friday June 29 and runs through July 8. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays at the Steppingstone Playhouse. Tickets are $14 adults and $10 students 18 and younger. For tickets, visit mauiacademy.org, call 244-8760 or make purchases at the customer-service kiosk at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center.