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Eric Gilliom returns to his theater roots with one-man musical

“It’s genuine and honest, and a hilarious reflection of life that everyone can relate too,” says Eric Gilliom of his one-man musical play, “White Hawaiian” opening Thanksgiving weekend at Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater. TONY NOVAK-CLIFFORD photo

Although many know Eric Gilliom as a singer and musician, with collaborations alongside Barry Flanagan, Mick Fleetwood and Willie K, he returns to his theater roots in the original one-man musical play, “White Hawaiian,” Thanksgiving weekend at Maui Arts and Cultural Center in Wailuku.

I visited with Gilliom last week to discuss those theater beginnings. “It’s been idling for a little while, but I’ve been wanting to do something like this for over a decade. I was inspired by John Leguizamo’s one-man Broadway shows,” he explained. “I started at Baldwin (High School) with Ms. Sue Ann Loudon and I was instantly obsessed. That took me to the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago. I studied for four years with the most amazing instructors and classmates, including John C. Reilly,” he related. Gilliom was then off to Hollywood, although he wanted to head to Broadway. “I had a manager at the time that threw me into the world of auditioning for TV and movies. Of which I had zero experience. I was always told that I was too big, too over the top. I begged my manager to get me an audition for a play, but L.A. is not a theater town.” Eventually Gilliom landed a role in the 1988 musical “Carrie,” which he calls the biggest flop in the history of Broadway. But it got me to the center of Broadway, and I began working, dancing and singing,” he said. One of those productions was the Tony Award-winning “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.”

After that run, Gilliom took a musical theater gig on a cruise ship, which brought him back to Hawaii. “I didn’t intend to stay, but I did ‘Greater Tuna’ at the Iao Theater. Then I co-produced a show called ‘One On One’ with my sister (Amy Hanaiali’i) and Jamie Foxx. Jamie actually opened for us at the Iao! Then it turned into a slippery slope with Amy and I in ‘Godspell,’ ‘Evita’ and ‘Rock Horror,’ one right after another. It was ‘Rocky’ that made me think, ‘I can make a living right here on the island.’ “

It wasn’t long before Gilliom teamed up with Flanagan and HAPA, Mick Fleetwood and the Island Rumours Band, and Barefoot Natives with Willie K and former Baldwin classmate Brian Kohne. “I like to collaborate; Brian’s a great writer and it’s a natural fit.” They’ve been collaborating on projects ever since Barefoot Natives, also teaming up on the award-winning comedy film “Get A Job” in 2010. “White Hawaiian” is their latest project which makes its world premier next Friday night.

I asked what “White Hawaiian” is about. “It’s basically a musical. It’s a show about family, it’s a show about identity crisis, it’s a show about a family of entertainers and it’s a show about hope. I don’t want to give too much away,” Gilliom shared. Over the past two or three years I wanted to return to theater with original content. I’m ready for it now. I wasn’t where I am now 10 years ago, five years ago. I’ve always felt like a late bloomer. I’m mature enough now to do something like this and we want to take the show on the road,” he explained. “It’s genuine and honest, and a hilarious reflection of life that everyone can relate too.”

Dominic Carosso (center) and the ensemble of Catch Me If You Can The Musical perform a dance number. Peter Swanzy photo

* MACC presents “White Hawaiian.” Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29 through Dec. 1 in the McCoy Studio Theater at MACC. Tickets range from $25 to $35 (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.

MINI REVIEW

A hot topic has recently emerged regarding substandard singing in Maui youth musicals. I would suggest that we do not hold a standard against amateur athletics on Maui. If we can agree that high schools shouldn’t refrain from football because a team is substandard, then why shouldn’t that same support apply to musical theater?

Seabury Hall’s current production of “Catch Me If You Can” is anything but substandard. It is stylish, teeming with top-notch choreography and its songs are sung with gusto. Enhancing this entertaining production are the vast amount of outstanding costumes by Andre Morissette and Vanessa Cerrito, superb lighting by Todd Van Amburgh, and the vision of director and choreographer David Ward, who fills the stage with glitz and glamor, propelling “Catch Me If You Can” beyond 1960s stereotypes while paying homage to the era.

This smile-fest musical really takes off in mid act one with “Jet Set,” when teenage conman Frank Abagnale Jr., laudably played by Dominic Carosso, scams his way into passing as a Pan Am pilot. In the lavish number, Carosso is enveloped in harmonic vocals and demanding dance by the large ensemble of 25 stewardesses and pilots. Later, Gabe Frampton, as FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, electrifies the crowd with his astounding dance moves alongside fellow agents Jacob Keyser, Preston Summit and Max Tramontin on “Don’t Break The Rules.” “Butter Out Of Cream” is another enjoyable number. Carosso and Javi Frith as Frank Abagnale Sr. offer a swanky nod to a Frank and Dean Las Vegas showroom duet.

In act two, Megan Malcolm, as Frank’s mother Paula, charms with her strong vocals and movement on the “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” reminiscent number, “Don’t Be A Stranger,” as does Stefani Peterson with her act two solo “Fly, Fly Away.” Peterson gives grounded dramatic performance as Frank’s sensible fiance Brenda Strong — not an easy task amidst a show laden with crucial exaggerated characterizations. Two of those necessary comedic performances come from Brenda’s parents, Carol and Roger Strong, well played by Caitlyn Campbell and Carl Molinaro. Campbell is especially impressive as the privileged, 1960s Southern housewife which is both hysterical and just as believable as if a woman twice her age was playing the role. Throughout the production, Ward wisely emphasizes his team, and due to this collaboration “Catch Me If You Can” doesn’t just fly, it soars.

* Seabury Hall Performing Arts concludes “Catch Me If You Can The Musical,” directed and choreographed by David Ward, under the vocal direction of Molly Schad. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 24 at the A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 seniors, $8 students, with $2 discounts if purchased in advance. For more information or to purchase tickets online visit www.seaburyhall.org.

ALSO THIS WEEK

In celebration of their 25th anniversary, MACC presents two free performances by The Spheres. Perched atop 14-foot high flexible poles this memorizing performance troupe fuses theater, dance and circus while bending and swaying in a hypnotic dance. The celebration also includes live music with HAPA, Henry Kapono, Willie K and a fireworks finale. The free performances will happen between 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24 at the MACC. For more information visit www.mauiarts.org.

Oh Boy Productions, in collaboration with ProArts Playhouse, present two free, staged readings of “Operation Ajax” by Matt Spangler and Farshad Farahat. Performances are 6:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Nov.25 and 26 at the Pro Arts Playhouse in Kihei. For more information, visit www.proartsmaui.com.

UPCOMING

Maui OnStage presents “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.” Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, book by Dennis Kelly, directed by Jennifer Rose, choreographed by Camille Romero, and under the musical direction of Robert E. Wills.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 29 through Dec. 14; 2 p.m. Saturdays, Dec. 7 and 14; 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8 and 3 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 1 and Dec. 15 at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets range from $20 to $40. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.