Show and Tell Hawai'i

'Honu' propels into the theatrical mainstream with 2-act version

September 13th, 2015

 

HonuGroup

Powerful performances by new cast members in Johnson Enos’ two-act version of “Honu by the Sea — The Musical” — which had its world premiere last weekend at the Hawaii  Theatre — propels the environmental show into the theatrical mainstream.

It’s yet another positive step in the certification and growth of the show, which has been four years in the making.

While still focusing on educating the young and families, about the threats of evasive and damaging pollutants to the sea, “Honu” welcomes Jacquelyn Holland-Wright as the domestic diva in-control mother turtle Lehua, Guy Merola as the menacing and threatening oily villain slicker, and Reyn Halford as the flashy and forthright Hula Hoop. They bring stellar voices, imposing presence, and a sense of awesomeness, creating storybook characters which connect with the audience. When all is said and done, it  elevates the experiences beyond youth-theater boundaries into full-fledged theatricality.

The newbies in the cast are memorable and mesmerizing in defining their roles in this undersea fable about a young beachboy Kainoa (Kaipo Leopoldino) who finds a magic starfish which grants him a wish to spend one day with the denizens of the deep, where he discovers humans are part of the reason there’s pollution-causing debris. Ultimately, he becomes a guardian of the seas for his new-found friends.

No, this is not an underwater superhero swim, but Holland-Wright has the charisma and determination of a Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” wearing a green-themed honu (turtle) costume;  Merola imposes the essence of a menacing villain like the Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera,” (complete with a soaring tenor voice, plus a black cape but no chandelier), and Halford displays the pizzaz and flashiness of the emcee in “Cabaret” (in his orange-dominated costume with bouncing octopus legs) as the headliner of a show-within-a-show segment (with requisite back-up showgirls, of course).

These seasoned actors bring depth and delight to the characters they play. The overall look and flair of the tale is enhanced by robust, eye-catching costumes reflecting the hues of the rainbow and the sea, and supported by a Disneyesque soundtrack of original tunes by composer-creator Enos.

So this is not your usual musical. It’s part entertainment, part red-alarm-alert about the need to take care of the environment, which is specifically the sea. The bottom line is to empower the spectators to become, like the Kainoa character, a guardian of the sea —  to make a difference and have a voice in the ongoing battle against pollution.

It's a message that sends the cast several times into the audience, coupled with shout-outs from the stage, which are typical tactics of crowd-participation in productions gearing to youngsters. But even adults were chanting and waving arms in sync with the actors in the weekend performances.

A wave of aloha and hurrahs to Shawna Masuda, playing Malia, the honu of the title, with a voice that resonates in solo and duet (with the mother honu Holland-Wright); Leopoldino, who has perfected his boyish charm as Kainoa, notably on his “Guardian of the Sea” solo; Kaimana Ramos, portraying Shaka the crab, in garb with the right claw larger than the left, with a savvy sideway walk; Ki Quilloy as Nalu the tiger shark, with an upgraded costume that clearly identifies him with requisite fins; and Nickey Enos as Surfy, the Hawaiian monk seal, in a silky and flowing costume befitting a slippery seal.

And a special nod to Gabrielle Awai as Kapper, who manipulates a seahorse puppet with grace and atmospheric charm.

Further, the school of  barracuda, the trio of opihi (smartly named Jan, Ken, Po), and the darling Hoopettes supporting Hula Hoop’s big number are also beautifully costumed and  move and groove with see- and sea-worthy precision.

I watched Act 1 from the balcony, where the sound was occasionally thin, making some dialogue inaudible and some tunes weak. But when I moved to the orchestra section for Act 2, it was easier to hear and appreciate the lyrics as well as the recorded tracks — and being close to the actors makes the show a lot livelier and fun. So: choose orchestra seats, if and when you attend.

The production will continue to tour its one-act version but also may undergo modification and refinement for further development.  Thus, this is the first major wave of activity — with more to come.

The 26-member cast was directed and choreographed by Bart Colby-Doerfler, with Enos serving as creative director and Melina Lillios as musical director and Tim Davis as vocal director. Cyndia Nordstrom's exquisite array of  Broadway-calibre costumes are worth a hurrah, too.

 

Powerful performance by new cast members in Johnson Enos’ two-act version of “Honu by the Sea — The Musical” — which had its world premiere last weekend at the Hawaii  Theatre — propels the environmental show into the theatrical mainstream.

It’s yet another positive step in the certification and growth of the show, which has been four years in the making.

While still focusing on educating the young and families, about the threats of evasive and damaging pollutants to the sea, “Honu” welcomes Jacquelyn Holland-Wright as the domestic but in-control mother turtle Lehua, Guy Merola as the menacing and threatening oily villain slicker, and Reyn Halford as the flashy and forthright Hula Hoop. They bring stellar voices, imposing presence, and a sense of awesomeness, creating storybook characters which connect with the audience and  elevates the experiences beyond youth-theater boundaries into full-fledged theatricality.

The newbies in the cast are memorable and mesmerizing in defining their roles in this undersea fable about a young beachboy Kainoa (Kaipo Leopoldino) who finds a magic starfish which grants him a wish to spend one day with the denizens of the deep, where he discovers humans are part of the reason there’s pollution-causing debris. Ultimately, he becomes a guardian of the seas for his new friends.

No, this is not an underwater superhero swim, but Holland-Wright has the charisma and determination of a Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” wearing a green-themed honu (turtle) costume;  Merola imposes the essence of a menacing villain like the Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera,” (complete a soaring tenor voice, plus a black cape but no chandelier), and Halford displays the pizzaz and flashiness of the emcee in “Cabaret” (in his orange-dominated costume with bouncing octopus legs) as the headliner of a show-within-a-show cabaret show (with requisite back-up showgirls, of course).

These seasoned actors bring depth and delight to the characters they play. The overall look and flair of the tale is enhanced by robust, eye-catching costumes reflecting the hues of the rainbow and the sea, and a Disneyesque soundtrack of original tunes by composer-creator Enos.

So this is not your usual musical. It’s part entertainment, part red-alarm-alert about the need to take care of the environment, which is specifically the sea. The bottom line is to empower the spectators to become, like the Kainoa character, a guardian of the sea —  to make a difference and have a voice in the ongoing battle against pollution.

The cast trips into the audience, and the shout-outs from the stage, are typical of crowd-participation of productions gearing to youngsters, but even adults were chanting and waving arms in sync with the actors in the weekend performances.

A wave of aloha and hurrahs to Shawna Masuda, playing Malia, the honu of the title, with a voice that resonates in solo and duet (with the mother honu); and Leopoldino has perfected his boyish charm as Kainoa, notably on his “Guardian of the Sea” solo; Kaimana Ramos, portraying Shaka the crab, in garb with the right claw larger than the left, with a savvy sideway walk; Ki Quilloy as Nalu the tiger shark, with an upgraded costume that clearly identified him — and his fins; and Nickey Enos as Surfy, the Hawaiian monk seal, in a silky and flowing costume befitting a slippery seal.

And a special nod to Gabrielle Awai as Kapper, who manipulates that seahorse puppet with grace and atmospheric charm.

Further, the school of  barracuda, the trio of opihi, and the darling Hoopettes supporting Hula Hoop’s big number are beautifully costumed and  move and groove with see- and sea-worthy precision.

I watched Act 1 from the balcony, where the sound was occasionally thin, making some dialogue inaudible and some tunes weak.

When I moved to the orchestra section for Act 2, it was easier to hear and appreciate the lyrics as well as the recorded tracks.

The production will continue to tour its one-act version but also may undergo modification and refinement for further development.  Thus, this is the first major wave of activity — with more to come.

Costumes were designed by Cynthia Nordstrom and built by John Kristiansen of New York, a company that outfits Broadway shows.

Director-choreographer Bart Colby-Doerfler orchestrates his 26-member cast with the skill of an army colonel, and Melina Lillios' musical direction (on tracks) and Tim Davis's vocal direction bring harmony and unison to the creative director's Enos' score.

 

 

'HONU BY THE SEA -- THE MUSICAL'
Where: Hawaii Theatre
When: School matinees (one-act), Sept. 9-18; public performances (two-act), 2 and 7 p.m. Sept. 12, 19; 2 p.m. Sept. 13, 20
Cost: $5-$10; family pass available from $55
Info: 528-0506,www.hawaiitheatre.com

 

 

 

 

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