Youth theater serves up two Broadway faves

‘Annie’ and ‘Once On This Island’ usher in spring season for Maui performance fans

Bella Gross-Hellson (clockwise from top left), Madelyn LaCount, Kiana Miyashiro, Puakenikeni Kepler and Electra Richards star in King Kekaulike Drama’s spring show “Annie,” music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan and directed by Chris Kepler. Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 5 through 13, 3 p.m. Sunday, April 14 at the King Kekaulike Performing Arts Center on the King Kekaulike High School campus in Pukalani. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 students and are available at the box office 30 minutes before show time. For more information visit www.kingkekaulike.com. Photo courtesy King Kelaulike Drama

Those who have never paid a visit to the awe-inspiring King Kekaulike Performing Arts Center in Pukalani will have the chance again next weekend when King Kekaulike Drama opens its annual end-of-school year musical, “Annie,” at King Kekaulike High School.

This classic Tony Award-winning show, based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” features many well-known Broadway hits such as “It’s A Hard Knock Life,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile” and “Tomorrow.”

Determined to find the parents who abandoned her, Annie (Puakenikeni Kepler) escapes a New York City orphanage and finds a new home and family in billionaire, Oliver Warbucks (Dylan Taasan), his secretary, Grace Farrell (Juliet Moniz and a lovable mutt named Sandy.

Director Chris Kepler played Rooster in a joint Maui OnStage and Maui Academy of Performing Arts production in 2008, and I asked him about performing in that holiday show at the Historic Iao Theater.

“It was my first time back on a Maui stage since I graduated from high school in 1990. I was actually in the ensemble of Maui Youth Theater’s production of ‘Annie’ in 1987. I originally auditioned (in 2008) as a way of spending time with my daughters, professionally developing myself as a high school acting teacher and to make close connections again in the Maui theater community. But it re-kindled my love for performing and encouraged me to continue auditioning every few years for community theater,” replied Kepler.

Maui OnStage Youth Theater presents “Once On This Island JR.” this weekend only at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Jack Grace photo

“It was not related to my past experience with the show,” shared Kepler on why he chose to re-visit “Annie” this season. “I chose it because it’s a timeless classic which audiences love, has a bunch of female roles (and) was a semi-easier piece to costume,” he continued.

“Annie” has been a mega-hit for community and youth theater companies alike for 40 years, and I wondered if Kepler had any thoughts on its undying popularity.

“The message of hope rings loud and clear in this musical. It’s another version of the American dream. People love to leave a theater with a positive message — and Charles Strouse’s musical score is incredible.”

Set in 1933 during the great depression, “Annie” may have resonated with its original New York audiences due to the city’s morose conditions in 1977. The Bronx was on fire nightly, the city was in massive debt and considered a default, and the Son of Sam serial killer had been on the loose for a year.

With the exception of “A Chorus Line” and “Grease,” Broadway was moribund as well. In 1972 creators Thomas Meehan, Martin Charnin and Strouse set out to cheer up a downbeat New York with a musical telling of this plucky and positive, curly-haired redhead. Though not excessively cheerful, “Annie’s” tale was encouraging and uplifting and it became a monstrous hit that ran for six years.

Early into “Annie’s” tale, she imagines her long lost parents in a melodic song with the touching lyrics, “Maybe far away, or maybe real nearby,” alongside her orphan mates Molly (Electra Richards), Pepper (Madeline LaCount), Duffy (Bella Gross-Hellson), July (Caylie Peterson), Tessie (Kiana Miyashiro) and Kate (Shelby Young).

Soon her just-around-the-corner adventure takes “Annie” from the dreadful “Little Girls” hater Miss Hannigan (Kaya Greene), to the compassionate Daddy Warbucks and an “Easy Street” scam concocted by Rooster (Spencer Birch) and his moll Lily St. Regis (Stasia Morales-Middleton).

In spite of setbacks, the 11-year-old, cockeyed optimist never gives up on hope, dreams and the promise of “Tomorrow.”

The message in “Annie” is not for kids, it’s for adults, perhaps specifically for the adults of 1977 who may have been Annie’s age in 1933. In short, when life hands you lemons, open a lemonade stand.

“Audiences will get a feel-good, family-friendly jaunt through a difficult time in American society, and take in the story of a spunky orphan who motivates and inspires hope in those around her,” says Kepler.

This weekend

Maui OnStage Youth Theater presents “Once On This Island JR.,” music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, directed by Dejah Padon, under the musical direction of Kim Vetterli.

This Caribbean-themed musical tells the story of Ti Moune (Jaimie Tirona), her desire to unite both class and race on her island and her bond with four ancient deities — Asaka (Rylynn Guthrie), the mother of the Earth; Agwe (Dakota Welch) the god of water; Erzulie (Sophia Gallegos), the goddess of love; and Papa Ge (Ian Smith), a demon of death.

• Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.

Upcoming

Returning to Maui with his second co-commissioned work, transgender choreographer Sean Dorsey brings “Boys in Trouble,” a production that unpacks masculinity with unflinching honesty, from unapologetically honest transgender and queer perspectives. Powerful, explosive, humorous and sexy, “Boys” offers an urgent and timely examination of American masculinity’s deep roots.

• Performance is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11 in Castle Theater at the MACC. Tickets are $35 and $45 with half price tickets for ages 12 and younger (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.

*****

ProArts presents the Hawaii premiere of “Avenue Q” music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty, directed by David Belew.

This multi-Tony Award-winning musical and adult comedy inspired by “Sesame Street” presents a puppet-filled world with outrageous R-rated realities.

• Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, starting Friday, April 12 running through May 5 at the ProArts Playhouse in Azeka Shopping Center Makai in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com. “Avenue Q” contains adult content and is not appropriate for children.

*****

Global Media Productions Presents popular and provocative performer, Ann Randolph in her new one-woman show, “Inappropriate In All the Right Ways.” Awarded “Best Solo Performer” by the San Francisco Examiner and Los Angeles Weekly, Randolph shares her wild ride from living in a mental institution in Appalachia, a boat off the coast of Alaska pretending to clean the Exxon Oil spill, a homeless shelter in Santa Monica, hooking up with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft for a one-woman show off-Broadway run to teaching thousands to take the stage and speak their truth.

• Performance is at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 12 at the Historic Makawao Union Church sanctuary. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Randolph will also host “Share Your Story,” a writer’s weekend workshop April 13 and 14 at the Temple of Peace in Haiku. To purchase tickets or for more information about the workshop, call 283-5365 or visit www.globalmediaproductions.com.

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