End of theater season . . . bestows accolades for stand-out performances

Kathryn Holtkamp • Jack Grace Photography

For the past six years, I have included a yearly Tony Awards mini-guide for Backstage readers.

This year, there are three clear favorites that could sweep their categories: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two” in the original play categories; “Angels in America” for best revival of a play, as well as the corresponding acting categories; and “The Band’s Visit,” based on a 2007 film, which should win multiple Tonys in the musical categories on Sunday night’s CBS television broadcast.

One potential award-winner is Tony Shalhoub for best actor in a leading role in a musical in “The Band’s Visit,” but do not be surprised if Ethan Slater, as SpongeBob, wins for “SpongeBob Square-Pants: The Broadway Musical.”

Two legendary British actresses are expected to take home Tonys on Sunday — Glenda Jackson, for best actress in a leading role in a play for Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” and Diana Rigg for best actress in a featured role in a musical in the revival of “My Fair Lady.”

Additional favorites include Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough and Nathan Lane for their performances in “Angels in America.”

Madame Donut

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is a slight favorite to win for best revival of a musical over “My Fair Lady” and “Once on This Island”; and Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” should win for best book of a musical.

Quadruple-threat Katrina Lenk, who wowed Broadway with last season’s non-musical performance in “Indecent,” is probably the one shoo-in to win for best actress in a leading role in a musical in “The Band’s Visit.”

Following the same format as the American Theatre Wing, and its season-ending deadline, I annually recognize Maui’s volunteer actors, along with my personal favorite performances at Tony time.

If the 2017-18 Maui theater season had a theme, it was poignant drama filled with a multitude of powerful performances that will be remembered for many seasons to come.

My choice for best actress in a featured role in a play is Kathryn Holtkamp for ProArts Playhouse’s “The Trip To Bountiful.” In January, I called Holtkamp’s performance “perfection personified” as Thelma, Carrie Watt’s (Sharyn Stone) bus mate on the journey to Bountiful, Texas.

Ross Young

In this heartwarming production, Holtkamp epitomized Southern grace and charmed audiences with her classic femininity and genuine kindheartedness reminiscent of Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.

For best actress in a featured role in a musical my choice is Madame Donut as Fraulein Kost in Maui OnStage’s “Cabaret.” There were many outstanding featured female performances on this season’s slate of musicals, but I was the most impressed by Donut’s marvelous interpretation and authentic German depiction.

A newcomer to the stage, she wowed in her first featured role, and her solo song, “Married,” (sung phonetically in German), called to mind the vocal styles of Eartha Kitt and Edith Piaf, cementing her as a rising stage star to watch.

For best actor in a featured role in a play, I choose Ross Young as “several men and women” in ProArts’ “The 39 Steps.” To name this production as the funniest of the season is an understatement, and to single out Young’s performance as the funniest of the year is, quite frankly, a no-brainer.

Unleashing the feral Young into unobstructed, madcap farce with wide-open improv opportunity was the equivalent of letting Robin Williams loose on Saturday Night Live.

Will Kimball

My choice for best actor in a featured role in a musical is Will Kimball in MAPA Live’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Kimball’s manipulative and sinister depiction of Archdeacon Claudio Frollo was the most complicated and constructive arc of character displayed all season. When I interviewed him prior to his performance, he called Frollo, “Extremely complicated . . . he believes he’s doing right, but struggles with the sin of lust.”

In “Hunchback’s” most stirring number, fraught with impressive special effects, Kimball electrified the Castle Theater with his Metropolitan Opera-quality vocals and Broadway-worthy presentation of “Hellfire.”

In the category of best actress in a leading role in a play, I choose Lia De Souza in Maui OnStage’s “Of Mice and Men.” De Souza gave a bravura performance as Curley’s Wife and captivated in every scene that she appeared. Last month, I suggested that Curley’s Wife could easily be glossed over as an insignificant 1930s literary character, but De Souza asserted her own perspective, essentially re-writing the role by means of fresh physicality and tranquil, yet palpable, emotion. Her arc climaxed into a startling accidental murder at the hands of Lennie (Francis Tau’a), which was the finest stage scene presented this season.

For best actress in a leading role in a musical, I pick Lin McEwan as Sally Bowles in Maui OnStage’s “Cabaret.” McEwan reinvented a classic character, providing the audience with something we have never seen before.

In March, I called her interpretation an inimitable and inspired star performance. No single song stirred the gamut of emotions more compellingly in 2017-18 than her astounding “Cabaret.”

Lia DeSouza

Best actor in a leading role in a play was easily the most loaded category of the season, but Ricky Jones’ performance as John Merrick in ProArts’ “The Elephant Man” was nothing short of a masterpiece.

That was never more evident than in the profound final scene of Act 1 opposite Mrs. Kendal (Hoku Pavao Jones). Kendal insisted upon shaking Merrick’s hideously deformed right hand, not his “quite beautiful” left hand. The action unleashed an intensely realistic display by Jones. It was not Jones’ tears that moved us — it was his skillful choice of quietly fighting the need to cry.

My choice for best actor in a leading role in a musical is Bennett Cale as the Emcee in Maui OnStage’s “Cabaret.” Cale was a tour-de-force from the moment he took the stage with the rousing “Willkommen” to the haunting “End of Show” (“Willkommen” reprise). His mysterious and debauched portrayal contributed to why this avant-garde “Cabaret” worked so well, but so did his stage altruism, which allowed others to seize center stage while his presence lingered in the shadows.

In a season that overflowed with emotive drama, my pick as best play is Maui OnStage’s “Of Mice and Men.” Last month, I called this show “must-see theater,” and if you did, you know why I’m choosing it as the best.

“Of Mice and Men” was an all-consuming and vital piece of drama loaded with passionate acting performances, enhanced by gorgeous artistic design and masterfully directed by Alexis Dascoulias.

Lin McEwan

For best musical of 2017-18, my choice is Maui OnStage’s “Cabaret.” This nearly flawless production was, in my opinion, the best Maui musical since MAPA’s 2013 production of “Les Miserables.”

Although “Cabaret” was bursting with award-worthy performances, it was the direction, design and manner in which Kalani Whitford chose to present it that made “Cabaret” such an extraordinary theatrical experience.

In March, I said Whitford’s dark direction dazzled, surprised, amused, alarmed and saddened, but collectively it left us deeply moved. What we all experienced at the conclusion is what made “Cabaret” so special.

With a little theater magic, the orchestra disappeared, yet the music played on. The Emcee transformed into an SS officer. Silhouetted in the background, we suffered at the sight of a huddled naked mass of humans perishing in a gas chamber. The show ended in complete silence and there was no curtain call, leaving us bewildered but inspired to discuss what we witnessed. That is what great theater is supposed to do.

Ricky Jones

Bennett Cale

Jim Oxborrow (from left), Jonathan Yudis, Gus Dascoulias, Don Carlson, Orion Milligan and Daniel Vicars captured the necessary emotion and drama in Maui Onstage’s production, “Of Mice & Men.” • Jack Grace photo

The cast of “Cabaret” brought the decadence and danger of 1930’s Berlin alive when it debuted at the Historic Iao Theater in March. • Jack Grace photo