Don Hendley once said, "Why do we have to give people what they want? Why can't you give them what they need?"
Alright, so maybe Maui didn't need a live-action graphic novel play, but I adore that the powers that be at the MACC constantly present unique, New York-quality productions regardless of the fact that there might be 800 empty seats on any given night. I didn't go gaga over "Intergalactic Nemesis" last Wednesday, but couldn't take my eyes off of it. Creator Jason Neulandor has fashioned an entirely unique new form of theater, and that achievement alone is almost unheard of.
Aside from the 1,000-plus images that blasted from the screen, there were many other transfixing moments in the production. Like watching a tennis match, one is constantly looking to a new corner of the stage vainly attempting to catch all the action. Its cast of three: David Higgins, Christopher Lee Gibson and Danu Uribe, played approximately 20 roles between them. All three deliver perfect and familiar portrayals of extreme 1930s radio characters, combined with that classic cadence, clip and the ridiculousness one would expect from a radio play a la "Prairie Home Companion."
Keigwin + Company
Not to slight the talented trio, but the sound foley by Buzz Moran may have been the most entertaining aspect of the entire show. My favorite of the night was Moran's precise shaking of a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to create the sound of a train (try it, it works). Aside from a laptop and a few modern microphones, everything about "Nemesis" happens live on stage, in front of your eyes, including pianist/composer Graham Renolds' score accompaniment, not unlike Orson Welles' classic "War of the Worlds" broadcast.
Not to sound like a 78 skipping on a phonograph, but many of these outstanding MACC-produced productions offer tickets for as low as $12, and most of the time shows like "Nemesis" are more entertaining than the jam-packed mega-band or super-comedian performances that charge $75.
The flip side to cutting-edge productions presented at the MACC is the raw beginnings of Maui high school theater. On Friday, King Kekaulike High School opened its beginning actors class production of "Usher, a Totally Teen Comedy." Most of the cast of 29 were making their stage debuts. The farcical adaptation combines characters from the collective works of Edgar Allen Poe, loosely framed by the pot of "The Fall of the House of Usher."
Although the cast has a long way to go as actors, there were several very funny moments and standout performances. Regardless of dramatic skills, which can eventually be learned, stage confidence will always cover the slips and gaffes that most audience members never notice.
Of particular noteworthiness were the performances by Kayla Bounds as Annabel Lee, Kiana Grundy-Morrison as the Red Death, Tara Sevis as Mann, Angel Fergerstrom as Pym, Kenna Rego as Raven and Liam Grinell as Roderick Usher. Fergerstrom and Grundy-Morrison have a natural sense of comedy, and Bounds, Servis, Rego and Grinell have a gift for basic character commitment and development. Trevor Natividad is very strong in comedy and drama, but as a beginning acting student he has a sizable advantage due to past productions with ProArts and Maui OnStage. Director Chris Kepler and his student assistant director, Rachel Simmons have done a fine job in allowing these young actors the opportunity to perform and also have chosen a wonderful script to accommodate the class.
Once again, this growing Upcountry drama department has delivered an edgy, funny, slightly-PG production that allows teens to play teens, while at the same time opening communication on hot-button issues such as teen suicide and depression.
* "Usher, A Totally Teen Comedy," loosely based on "The Fall of the House of Usher" and other works by Edgar Allen Poe, continues through Jan. 20. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday in the King Kekaulike High School cafetorium. Tickets are available at the door a half hour before the show. Cost is $6 adults and $4 students.
My busy week of theater concluded with MAPA's inaugural performances of the Ampersand Dance Company. To be honest, dance is not my forte and I don't consider myself qualified to critique it. I can only offer my observations.
First of all, Steppingstone Playhouse is a fantastic location to watch dance. Rather than being hundreds of feet away from the action, Ampersand performs less than six feet from its audience.
Over the past few years, I can't help but notice the difference between big city dance troupes versus Maui's. The metropolitan dance company members rarely smile and generally wear heavy and dark makeup, creating ghostly gaunt faces. The Maui dancers truly look like your average Jill (or Joe) from next door, and they're always grinning from ear to ear. Regardless of your preference, it is a striking difference. This youthful new company founded by MAPA instructors and alum features Rebecca Owen, Katira Arak, Ajja DeShane, Katerina Dominguez and Jenna Kamikawa.
A favorite piece of mine was "Youth," slightly more dramatic than much of the light-hearted show, choreographed by Kamikawa. The finale "It's Time," easily the crowd favorite, allowed each dancer a solo moment and featured violinist Aowl Owen. Rebecca Owen offered some hip-hop influenced moves, Dominguez generated the biggest applause with her Savion Glover-style tap and Kamikawa brought humor with her jazz/modern interpretation to "Call Me Maybe."
The intention of Maui's newest dance company is to incorporate guest performers in the future. You can follow them on Facebook for upcoming performance dates.
Founded in 2003 by Larry Keigwin and Nicole Wolcott, Keigwin + Company creates and presents an electrifying brand of contemporary dance and a vision that embodies theatrical sensibility with wit, style and heart. Described as a Busby Berkeley for the 21st century, Kiegwin has been commissioned to create original works for opening night at New York's Fashion Week, the NYC Ballet and Martha Graham. The troupe's eclectic musical choices range from Hadyn to Eartha Kitt. Sixteen pieces that will be performed will include a dance of two lovers titled "Mattress Suite," and "Balloon Dance," described as a garden party for sea anemones.
* Keigwin + Company will perform at 7:30 tonight at the MACC's Castle Theater. Tickets are $45, $32 and $12, plus applicable fees. To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.
The New Shanghai Circus returns to the Castle Theater on Monday and Tuesday. The wildly popular troupe features Chinese acrobatic skills passed on from framers and craftsmen to the current performers for dozens of generations. Building on the traditional performances, the artists of today's New Shanghai Circus add layers of complexity, daring new techniques and spectacular stunts, thrilling audiences around the world. It's always a family favorite - and a sold out event - so don't delay in reserving a seat.
* New Shanghai Circus performs at 4 and 7:30 p.m. on Monday and again at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Tickets are $28, $22 and $12, plus applicable fees.
"One Hot Winter's Night," an evening of sexy, saucy and bawdy song and dance will begin at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Historic Iao Theater.
The 1940s-style burlesque revue will feature live performances by Maui entertainers including the Kit Kat Club Cabaret, Jonna Ahn, Kathy Collins, Lia Krieg, Chino LaForge, Alison Mikes, Casey Murphy and others.
* "One Hot Winter's Night" is an adult-themed burlesque show, and is not appropriate for children younger than 17. Tickets cost $17 to $28, and are available at the Maui OnStage box office, by calling 242-6969 or online at www.mauionstage.com.