By Wayne Harada
Arcadia cast performs "Gangnam Style." Bruce Asato photo
Note: This is an expanded version of a story published today (June 6) in the Today section of the Star-Advertiser.
Entrepreneur Jack Cione has had an illustrious producing-directing career spanning nearly six decades here, but one project — his signature “Mardi Gras Follies,” which just completed a three-weekend run (June 1 closing) at the Arcadia Senior Residence — remains his passion and pet project.
He gets the most jollies working with his “Follies” senior citizens, where his enthusiasm and dedication rub off on his fellow retirees. The endeavor has become the focus of his personal golden years — and his dazzling revue staged without charge expressly for the Arcadia ohana has evoked a lot of “senior moments” to remember and cherish. Not just for him but for his cast, too.
Now the public can see his seniors lip-synch, dance, and frolic — in Bill Doherty’full theatrical regalia that includes feather boas, sequins and frou frou costumes — when 38 Arcadians, including seven troupers from sister senior residence 15 Craigside — will be joined by 45 ballroom dancers representing 12 chapters of the Hawaii Ballroom Dance Assn. The expanded “Follies” production is dubbed “Cabaret III,” and will unfold at 7 p.m. Saturday (June 7) at the Hawaii Theatre.
It will be Cione’s third collaboration with the HBDA to support the dance organization. A last-minute addition to the lineup is Randy Smith, a Frank Sinatra sound-alike; the finale is a salute to world traveler King Kalakaua and the precious gems he introduced to Hawaii from his global jaunts, in lavish Las Vegas-style glitter and finery.
“All told, I’ve done about 35 ‘Follies’ shows,” said Cione. He launched the concept at Pearl Harbor, initially tapping military brass and their families, to stage elaborately-costumed romantic and comedic numbers to raise funds and esprit for the Navy for 25 years. There have been variations of the show at the Waikiki Shell, Blaisdell Arena, and even the Hawaii Theatre before anchoring at the Arcadia.
“I’ll do one more next year,” he said of a milestone 10th at the Arcadia, a tradition that has raised not only the profile of the senior living institution in Manoa but also the performance-savvy of the retirees who never thought they’d get bitten by the show biz bug. Some troupers have had community stage experience, but most are newbies dealing with the challenges of theater: makeup, wigs, costumes, rehearsals, learning lyrics to lip-synch, conquering dance steps, and in some instances, act. In front of an audience.
Turns out the journey has a fountain of youth side effect.
As Edna Yonaoshi, 89, the eldest in the performing company, said, “This year is my first show; I saw it last year and I couldn’t resist (participating). I think I have two minutes and 30 seconds on stage, part of a bon dance. ”
It’s been a gratifying and fulfilling new experience for the former tour escort for Royal Adventure Travel for 36 years. “I am having fun,” said Yonaoshi. “Makes me feel younger.”
Her pal, Edith Tan, 75, already is a veteran of two productions and admitted, “I was railroaded to do it the first time … but I was curious. I’ve met so many professional dancers; it’s good fellowship.”
For director Cione, who turns 88 this year, the bottom line has been to bring out the actor and dancer in his elderly cast, and nurture confidence as well as a sense of pride. Some years, he’s had mid-90s folks traipsing all over the stage.
“It takes six months, from the time I do a script, assemble music, plan costumes, cast and then rehearse the show,” he said. “And New York provides the inspiration.”
Personal health issues have forced him to prioritize and reduce his activities somewhat, but he’s not ready to give up his “Follies” ship.
“I move slower now,” he said. “I quit giving tap dance classes several years ago because of health. My doctor thinks I need to cut back my trips. But I want to go to Tahiti and Samoa … but there are no hospitals there, but I could travel to Las Vegas and the West Coast, in case I need care.”
The production traditionally is a pastiche of Cione’s show biz past. Cione, of course, is the venerable nightclub operator when naughty was enticing; his foray into adult shows at the old Forbidden City and other strip joints put him on the map. He’s booked such acts as Liza Minnelli and Sarah Vaughan, introduced the naked waiter revue at the Dunes nightclub and occasionally produced Waikiki spectacles at Le Boom Boom Club and the Royal Hawaiian’s Monarch Room.
Not surprisingly, he taps his past to influence his present. For the current show, Cione chose “Magic To Do,” as his opening number borrowed from the Tony Award-winning “Pippin,” which he saw last year with its circus-magic remake on Broadway. “Be a Clown” and “Comedy Tonight” continue the theme, anthems from previous musicals he’s seen.
There are vaudevillean shticks, and even a mild strip tease —a segment that is family-friendly and senior-sensitive.
“The show becomes part of their lives,” he said of his performers, some of whom who have patronized Cione’s various nightlife presentations of decades past.
Marcie Taylor-Kaneshige, 82, has been a “Follies” volunteer and participant for 30 years, initially through her job ties with American Savings, which sponsored a dance event at Blaisdell Arena which involved Cione. She took the stage in the Pearl Harbor era of the event and regularly and willingly assumes solos and ensemble numbers with flair now.
She’s the one who takes off some of her clothes, but there’s nothing risqué or demeaning. Her outer kimono-type garb comes off, to display some intimate apparel. “I do and bring my own costumes,” said Taylor-Kaneshige. “I love theater and dance is theater. And the show addresses my interests. Jack has such a positive attitude;he tells you how it’s done, and it’s hard to say no.”
Benny and Faith Agbayani, dance directors at HBDA, can’t imagine their lives without dance — they were novices under the tutelage of the late Eugene Ichinose more than three decades ago and have been instrumental in securing dancers to carry on the HBDA tradition. “I used to bowl,” said Benny, who’ll be 75 in November. “But Mr. Ichinose said that it’s bad for the posture. So now I dance.”
It was Faith, 64, who first got immersed in ballroom dancing — “the rhythm keeps me young,,” she said — but Benny ultimately succumbed to the rhythm of the dance. “It’s my only exercise now,” he said.
And yes, the Agbayanis are parents of baseball star Bennie Agbayani.
Both said the emergence of reality shows like “Dancing With the Stars,”
which cast celebrity dancers with skilled tutors, have sent a loyal fanship to the Ala Wai Clubhouse, the flagship ballroom site for dance lessons, to learn swing, tango and waltz. Couples and singles show up and instructors become partners when needed.
“It’s really reasonable — $20 for eight weeks,” said Faith. “We show them etiquette.”
Shirley Ota, 74, is current HBDA president and is a retired teacher and principal in Southern California. On an ocean cruise, she found her calling — ballroom dancing — and now admits “it seems like I belong. It’s a great way to meet people, it’s good for the brain, and my husband’s dancing again.” Herb Ota collapsed on a ship tour last fall but has recovered and joined his wife in the “Follies” production.
John Kotake, a dentist by trade, and his wife Karen typify the volunteerism and twosomeness in the history of the “Follies.” They have been a featured duo in 10 Pearl Harbor shows, two at the Hawaii, and six at Arcadia. He now is treasurer of HBDA, she is its corresponding secretary.
“We do things together,” said John Kotake, who admits he often contemplates dance steps while involved in his dentistry. Not surprisingly, he’s become Cione’s dentist in the process.
At 33, Allyson Doherty is the youngest cast member. By day, she’s a curriculum coordinator at Stevenson Middle School, so dancing is a tension reliever. “My day job is stressful; when I dance, I don’t think about work. I love working with the seniors, and who give out as much energy as I do. They call me The Kid and they take care of me, and dancing in the show with them is a joy.”
Featuring: Arcadia “Mardi Gras Follies” cast, Hawaii Ballroom Dance Assn. performers, guest-singer Randy Smith
When: 7 p.m. Saturday (June 7)
Where: Hawaii Theatre