Show and Tell Hawai'i

Review: Lisa Josephsohn’s final curtain call

October 26th, 2009

It was a hard show to swallow, because of the emotion, the goodwill, the reality: honoring and remembering publicist Elissa Josephsohn, with a revue of the ilk she routinely assembled and promoted in life, left me with mixed emotions.
The tribute, “A Hard Act to Follow” — deliberately titled after a tune from “Curtains,” a Broadway musical Lisa earlier publicized at Army Community Theatre — was a bittersweet affair Sunday at the Hawai‘i Theatre, a venue she frequented because of the talent she promoted there — and elsewhere.
We came to honor her, for sure; but accepting the finality of her passing was like experiencing a show you know like the palm of your hand but hated the moment when it was pau.
This was the final curtain call for Lisa.
Singers, dancers, instrumentalists, peers, friends, strangers ... they assembled to bid adieu, and thanks, for Lisa’s contributions in promoting and supporting the arts. Especially theater. Plus restaurants, of course.
The select list of troupers included Rolando Sanchez, Larry Paxton, Richard Vida, Cathy Foy, Dita Holifield, Guy Merola, Matthew Pedersen, Rex Nockengust, Jade Stice, the cast of “Curtains,” Don Conover, Ballet Hawaii youngsters, Diamond Head Theatre’s Shooting Stars youths, and the Hawai‘i Theatre’s Young Actors Ensemble.
The most popular segment was the “I Have a Dream/Dancing Queen” medley led by Foy, complete with neon’70s-‘80s costumes, prompting folks like Carolyn Berry, Linda Coble, Charlotte Kandel and Wendy Nagaishi, among others, doing disco moves in the aisles or at their seats — some opting for the appropriate hand movements. It was precisely the kind of “moment” Lisa would have been squeling delight as a willing participant.
Restaurateur Randy Schoch, one of three speakers who had both business and personal connections with Lisa, spoke of her passion and loyalty in promoting all of his eateries here, from Nick’s Fishmarket era through The Black Orchid, from Ruth’s Chris Steak House to Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and her eagerness to plan his wedding at Temple Emanu-El (her faith) when he got married to his bride Cheri (no, they didn’t convert).
Eddie Sherman, the dean of three-dot columnists, had honest revelations of his battle royales with Lisa over time — hey, if you knew Lisa and her take-charge style, you had friction as often as you had applause for her dedication — and even had the guts to say they had more bouts than Muhammed Ali.
I was invited to speak, too, but avoided the very personal details about my friendship but admitted that Lisa’s passing has created a new normal in how we deal with entertainment and shows, particularly in the manner of ordering event tickets. Lisa was the premier Ticketmistress, able to process house seat orders with your credit card number, and no, Ticketmaster is not an acceptable option or replacement. Lisa also had vision to set the model on combining food and entertainment in the art of putting fun into fundraising: She was the first, nearly 25 years ago, to mount the concept of a food festival (restaurant booths serving up food) to anchor a benefit. The next time you attend a fundraiser with a grazing foodie format, thank Lisa.
She loved cats, she loved shopping, she loved ballet, she loved “Les Miserables,” all duly noted in photos, chatter and performance. After all, she named her cats Mel (after Mel Gibson, but switched affiliation when he went bonkers, to Mel Brooks, whom she metin life), Harry (for Harrison Ford) and Liat (for the daughter of Bloody Mary in “South Pacific”), for starters. And the show-ending "Do You Hear the People Sing?" anthem from the finale of"Les Miz" was a suitable closing number.
Lisa loved cameras and photos, and the folks at Longs Drugs always knew to have double prints whenever she dropped off her roll of films (she did eventually upgrade to digital). So there were several mentions of her photo phobia.
Michael W. Perry and Larry Price — yes, Perry on the left, Price on the right (though the order is switched from a spectator’s perspective) — emceed the show, sitting side by side like old codgers that Perry aptly described as the ol’ grumpy Statler and Waldorf gents from “The Muppet Show.” OK, they weren’t grumpy, but the link was spot-on, visually.
The show was informal, breezy and largely nostalgic, with some unwanted miscues like a non-working mike for singer Paxton. The show had simple pleasures like Nockengust’s “What I Did for Love” ballad that evoked a chorus line of tears. The show had unexpected illness; singer Shari Lynn had the flu, so couldn’t show her support for Lisa (she had prepped a show-stopping “Before the Parade Passes By”). The show had family representation — Lisa’s cousin, Ann Hiatt, and hubby Tom — in attendance, but unfortunately, they weren’t properly recognized.
And the show had genuine heart: all participants lived and loved Lisa through the good and the bad times.
Lisa would have loved every moment of the afternoon, miscues included, but she would have hissed at the empty balcony seats. After all, she was all about getting butts into a showroom or theater, working her butt off to do the job. Proves, sort of, that her p.r. goodwill might have made a difference, but no doubt she was smiling from the heavens at the outpouring of aloha.
For those who have wondered about her remains, her ashes were scattered off the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Monday afternoon.

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