At long last theater lovers

King Kekaulike’s Performing Arts Center is ready to open

Chris Kepler, drama instructor at King Kekaulike High School, stands on stage at the new state-of-the-art King Kekaulike Performing Arts Center in Pukalani. The center opens next weekend with “The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree.” Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, April 20 through 29. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for students. For more information or to purchase tickets for any King Kekaulike Drama event, visit www.kingkekaulike.com. Photos courtesy King Kekaulike Drama

A decade ago, the King Kekaulike high school theater program was in its infancy and nearly non-existent; more a club than a drama program. Since then, Drama Instructor Chris Kepler has distinguished the program as a virtual blueprint of how to succeed in show business without really panicking.

Next Friday night, the self-nicknamed “Dramaaticans” will open “The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree” at the incredible, new state-of-the-art King Kekaulike Performing Arts Center in Pukalani, but it might as well be nicknamed “the house that Kepler built.”

The always modest Kepler underplayed his role in making the new center a reality.

“The idea of this building began with a push for a school theater back when we opened in 1998. Carolyn Johnson started the theater program, and Kyle Yamashita (State Representative, House District 12) has championed obtaining the funding for us for many years. Susan Scofield, the original principal, and Carolyn were big proponents in pushing the vision and the dream of an art center to the state,” he said.

Kepler also singled out current King Kekaulike High School principal Mark Elliott.

Puakenikeni Kepler (on gangplank) leads her band of lady pirates Madeline LaCount (from left), Kylie Takushi, Mariko Yoshida, Caitlyn Sylva, Madison Stephens-Maguire, Jessie Thomas, Kaya Glomb, Kaya Greene and Nash Ventura in “The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree,” the opening production at the new King Kekaulike Performing Arts Center in Pukalani.

“Mark envisions establishing a foundation with board members that will oversee the facility, and also instituting a technical theater immersion academy. It will be a small group of kids that will take their core courses, but devote all of their electives to mastering the technical side of theater. They will be the crew of this building,” he explained. “Over the course of four years they will learn all of the aspects and elements of working in professional live entertainment on the most modern equipment available — operating the fly system, rigging, lighting, follow spots, sound, operating the projector and the sound and lighting boards.”

I suggested that they could be hired right out of high school at venues like the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului or the Neil S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu.

“Or by artists directly — they will have the skills to go on tour with Bruno Mars,” said Kepler.

Some of the astounding amenities in the facility include hand- crafted sound diffusers lining the walls and ceilings imported from the United Kingdom and Italy; a masonite stage that can be replaced in pieces if necessary; a 32 channel sound console; an orchestra pit on hydraulics; a 40-set fly system; a caged catwalk network to access lighting instruments; a 2,000 square foot cyclorama; a motorized movie screen of similar size; flat-screen video monitors that will display the live action both backstage and in the lobby; and an orchestra shell identical to the one used by the Maui Pops at the Castle Theater.

“It’s a mini-Castle, minus the mezzanines,” said Kepler.

The 414-seat venue is sold out for next week’s opening night, but tickets remain for the run of “The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree.”

At the new facility, reserved seating is intended to be purchased online, but any remaining seats on the night of performances can still be purchased in cash at the equally impressive box office.

At the entry way of the center is an abstract sun design that symbolizes Haleakala, conceived by Kepler, carved in the exterior concrete flooring and continuing into the spacious lobby.

“It’s strange to see things in your head, describe them to an artist and then, one day, there it is come to life.”

Kepler also shared that the entire lobby will eventually be a student art gallery procured by the art department.

In Kepler’s first year as head of the drama department 10 years ago, he had nine students and taught one beginning and one advanced acting class. In 2018, he has two beginning acting classes, two intermediate to advanced classes and two play productions classes which focus on technical theater and set building.

“The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree” will star 59 youths.

“The program snowballed to three and four shows per year and our crowds just kept getting bigger and bigger,” said Kepler.

I asked him to compare the program’s beginnings to where King Kekaulike is now.

“It’s like going from playing with Hot Wheels to driving a Lamborghini,” he said.

Upon entering the theater for a tour last week, all I could say was, “Wow!” The magnitude of the venue will render one slightly speechless. I asked Kepler what patrons should expect.

“They’re going to see theater splendor. They will be wowed. It is far grander than any typical Mauian might expect. I’m just so thankful and humbled by it all, but also excited to see how it can serve the greater performing arts.”

The center, through the future foundation with a board of directors to be named, will conceivably make the facility available for rentals that could include other theater companies, dance companies and music concerts.

Mauians will have the chance to see it all for themselves over the coming weeks with “The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree,” a show Kepler calls “his favorite” and has become King Kekaulike’s signature show, with three productions since 2010.

“Pun intended, it was a treasure to find this show. It’s perfect for our program. It empowers women, its fun for the students and there are lots of parts for girls, which is a necessity in high school theater.”

The musical’s author, Martin A. Follosse, will even be traveling from the Mainland to attend next Friday’s opening-night gala. In the rowdy, madcap musical, Captain Jennings’ (Troy Lau) crew jumps ship upon sighting pirates approaching. Jennings is then left with only a handful of motley prisoners to protect his wealthy passengers, Professor Bidwell (Joey Moepono) and the Prescotts (Juliet Moniz and Jessie Thomas). As Captain Bree (Pua-kenikeni Kepler), her first mate Jane (Madison McGuire) and their bawdy band of lady pirates attack and take over the defenseless ship, the swashbuckling musical comedy is underway with a host of comical characters and lively musical numbers. Gangway for “women of opportunity, wenches gone astray, a sisterhood of thieves . . . the vile scourge upon the sea!”

Upcoming

ProArts Playhouse in Kihei presents “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown” by Clark Gesner, directed by Ally Shore, with musical direction by Kim Vetterli.

The timeless characters of Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts,” will be played by Dale Button, John Glavan, Logan Heller, Katherine Holtkamp, Lina Krueger and Kiegan Otterson.

* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, running April 20 through May 13 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com.

*****

Seabury Hall Performing Arts presents its Dance Showcase 2018. The 28th annual dance concert is choreographed and directed by David Ward, Andre Morissette and Vanessa Cerrito.

* Performances are at 7 p.m. April 21, 27 and 28, and 3 p.m. April 29 in the ‘A’ali’iku- honua Creative Arts Center at the Makawao campus. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students. To purchase tickets for any Seabury Hall Performing Arts event, visit www.seaburyhall.org.

*****

Maui OnStage presents John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

George and Lennie are two displaced migrant ranch workers in search of job opportunities during the Great Depression. A parable about what it means to be human, this unlikely duo’s aspiration of owning their own ranch and the obstacles that stand in the way reveal the nature of dreams, dignity, loneliness and sacrifice.

* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, April 27 through May 13 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets range from $20 to $40. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.

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