Review: A homegrown 'Les Miz' that we can all be proud of!

September 21st, 2013
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les-miserables

“Les Miserables,” at the Paliku Theatre, is a lush production with passion, precision and professionalism throughout the ranks.

As directed by Ron Bright and produced by Tom Holowach under auspices of the Windward Community Theatre, the musical is beautifully sung by a cast of professional and theater devotees, some working for the beloved director for the first time, many returning to share the joy of community theater with their mentor over the past 50 years.

An amazing vocal ensemble, coached by Mary Chesnut Hicks, is also a high-water mark for this production, which retains the breadth and depth of the original Alain Bloublil/Claude-Michel Schonberg classic from the London and Broadway stage. The choral work by the company is superb, earning hearty applause and hurrahs.

The show is peopled with talent on all burners, led by Kip  Wilborn as Jean Valjean, the wrongly imprisoned soldier pursued by his nemesis, Leslie “Buz” Tennent as Inspector Javert. They are opera singers doing this one for the first time, and they deliver, as actors and as singers, punctuating the score with agility and mobility, with able and adorable assist from local actor Cliffton Hall, back from his normal job as a Broadway performer, who adds a smidgin of homegrown status and accomplishment to the plate.

And homegrown is the operative word here; this is purely and magically a concoction by locals, for locals, and if you ask me, it could easily tour with the cache of local artists aboard. I’m proud to say that this production easily is this community’s “line king,” with a sellout inevitable and available seats very scarce.

The plot, of course, is from the historic novel by Victor Hugo of wartime France focusing on student revolutionaries of the era and soldiers on both sides of the war. The template includes themes of right vs. wrong, broken dreams and broken hearts, freedom and dissension, greed and goodwill, and other human values still relevant today.

All  roles are wisely cast.

Wilborn brings reverence and calm to his Valjean, and his offstage religious beliefs creep into his performance. He has the pipes — and sensitivity — to make his “Bring Him Home” one of the weepers, but his versatility is admirable and surfaces in confrontational moments, notably when his character is caught stealing silver for survival, fighting for time to provide comfort and allegience while taunted by Javert, and providing fatherly solace to a young Cosette he eventually adopts.

His is the first-ever Valjean I've experienced whose hands go to prayer motif at the end of "Bring Him Home," accompanied by other religious gestures, adding relevance and naturalism to the moment. Valjean also gets into prayer mode, utilizing the candleholders given him by the Bishop early on, before his journey to the heavens. These additions work wonders from  the character's deeply spiritual standpoint.

Tennent’s height and deep tones, combined with his body language, makes his Javert a formidable figure, in his solo “Stars” as well as in a number of choregraphed combative moments with Valjean and the student revolutionists.

Hall, last seen here as Fiyero in a touring “Wicked” production, is a credible romantic with a tenor that melts hearts. His harmonies in occasional duets reflect his easy style, and his evocative “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” solo is dark, somber and expressive, undercoated by grief and guilt as the sole soldier surviving a bullet.

Michael Bright as Enjolras has that flag-waving memorable scene, “The People’s Song,” and though he’s been on the road a la Hall on Broadway tours, he makes his Enjolras a homecoming victory. Nothing like a hometown crowd to root for a warrior.

The women are equally powerful and memorable.

Jana Anguay Alcain delivers one of the signature tunes, “I Dreamed a Dream,”      bringing vulnerability and compassion to Fantine, the distressed, ill mom forced to sell her hair and her body to raise funds to pay an innkeeper and his wife to provide care for her young daughter, Cosette.

Shawna Lynn Masuda as the lovestruck tomboy, Eponine, is sweet and loyal towards Marius, who relies on her for friendship not romance. Masuda makes her solo, “On My Own,” all her own, and her dying scene with Marius is honest and poignant.

Kim Anderson as Cosette  brings grace and elegance in her unexpected romance with Marius, and their “A Heart Full of Love,” with Eponine’s intervention, shows sparks that evolve in Act II.

And that one-two punch, Thenardier and Mme. Thenardier, sung by a real-life married couple, Scott Moura and Zenia Moura, are perfectly suited for the show, bringing along a wealth of comedic tricks. They look, sing, sound and prance about perfectly in their classic and commanding “Master of the House” sequence and the smaller wedding party scene. They are folks you don’t want at your party, but spot-on for “Les Miz.”

The two tykes in the production, Oliver deClive-Lowe as Gavroche and Alyse Glaser as Little Cosette, are darlings in their roles, who could project a bit more to be heard. They alternate with Matias Durkin and Camille Perry (the girls take turn as Young Eponine, too).

Music and sound are key challenges for “Les Miz,” and Clarke Bright conducts a marvelous 14-piece orchestra, performing the luxurious and mood-evoking music, with resounding resourcefulness that never intrudes on the lead singers. Even on those resonating chorale chorus numbers involving multi voices.

Marcelo Pacleb recreates the iconic three-step choreography for the crusading scene; he is one of the three regular behind-the-sceners who are part of the artistic design crew for Bright’s shows.

Lloyd S. Riford II’s set and lighting design and R. Andrew Doan’s technical direction are part of the precision team that enhances the look and texture on stage. There were a few tech glitches on opening night, surely gone by now, regarding lighting and sound.

Lacy Rohlf coordinated costume design and rentals; yes, some were imported rather than built because of cost and time.

Director Bright has waited about 30 years to direct his dream show and his fortitude and style are evident with abundant joy from the front of the house.

Go see what the magic and applause and standing ovations are all about — if you can score a ticket or two. Tip: some walk-in seats are held for first-comers at the box office prior to curtain.

LES MISERABLES’

Where: Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 27. (Extension dates included, though additional Wednesday shows are contemplated but not yet formally announced)

Info: 235-7310, www.paliku.com

'Les Miz' booking completes Ron Bright's trifecta of plays

June 19th, 2013
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“Les Miserables,” the Tony- and Academy Award-winning musical inspired by the valor and humanity of the French revolution, will open a five-weekend run Sept. 20 at Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College.
For Ronald Bright, the veteran director, the British musical about everyday heroes in extraordinary situations completes his trifecta  of dream productions.
“The three biggies in my directorial career are ‘Miss Saigon’ (we had a helicopter), ‘Phantom of the Opera’ (we had a chandelier) and now it’s ‘Les Miz’ (we will have a barricade),” said Bright. “My theater career might not have been complete had we not decided to include this show in our repertoire.”

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An open-call audition for plum roles will be held at 6 p.m. Monday (June 24) and Tuesday (June 25), with callbacks on Wednesday (June 26). A swarm of auditioners is anticipated.
Tickets will be available later this summer, but expect admission to be $45 regular seats, $49 central premium seats.
Tom Holowach, Paliku’s general manager and the lone paid theatrical hire on the Windward campus, had been working on acquiring the production for about two years.
“I’ve been sweating this one out for a long time,” said Holowach. The snag was in the language of the MTI (Music Theatre International) contract and the dispute was finally resolved this week.
“We had a contract back in November, but nobody to sign it, which started a long process of modifying the language to retain the protection of the original wording,” said Holowach.
“Les Miz, ” based on the Victor Hugo novel, long has been a favorite for theater actors and audiences. It still is playing in London and it has had a successful original run, along with a revival, on Broadway.
The December release of the all-star movie version, featuring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert, and Anne Hathaway as Fantine, has heightened audience interest, including a generation of film-goers who may not have been exposed to the stage production.
The show’s leading characters, along with the roles of Eponine, Marius, Cosette, Thenardier, Madame Thernadier, and young Cosette and Gavroche, are plums in the annals of theater, requiring strong voices to deliver the emotional score of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg.
The score is rich in melody and texture, including such signature tunes as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Castle on a Cloud,” “Bring Him Home,” “On My Own,” “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” “Do You Hear the People Sing,” and “Master of the House.”
Bright recalls seeing the show in London in 1993, sitting in the very last row of the balcony, and became immersed in the emotion of the story, and “not being able to move after witnessing the power of the human heart and all it can endure. It is, and always will be, the best musical I’ve ever experienced.”
Holowach said that the auditions will be an open call, with no pre-cast roles. “Every singing teacher will send students,” he said. “My advice is, learn the song the character sings; if you act and look and sound like the character, you’re in a pretty strong position (to get selected).”

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'Honu by the Sea' bows July 4 at Royal's Monarch Room

June 27th, 2012
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Just when you think Waikiki is lacking in fresh new shows, along comes a homegrown musical prospect entitled “Honu by the Sea,” set for a limited summer run starting July 4, at the Royal Hawaiian’s Monarch Room.
With an ocean-front barbecue dinner option on the hotel’s Ocean Lawn, with Diamond Head as the backdrop, this sounds like a top tier destination. But you don’t have to have dinner to attend.
“Honu by the Sea” is a new endeavor by Johnson Enos, veteran Island actor, singer, composer, and songwriter, who is reuniting with his high school acting mentor, director Ronald Bright, to stage a family-friendly show exploring denizens from under-the-sea, encountered by a Waikiki beachboy who learns the value of friendship and the virtues of saving the ocean environment.
The cast features 15 singers and dancers, including Malia the Honu, played by Madison Eror (last seen as Meg Giry in Paliku Theatre’s “Phantom of the Opera”), and Zare Anguay (who played Bernardo in “West Side Story” at Paliku), as Kainoa the beachboy.
The Broadway-style musical tracks Honu’s journey to the Northern Hawaiian Islands to rescue her mother who has been trapped by ocean debris, with Kainoa’s kokua.
The other performers include Jessica Cruz, Bryce Irvine, Barry Quilloy, KoDee Martin, Meilan Akaka, Shawna Masuda, Carlos Chang, Miguel Cadoy III, Marlise Ahuna, Cara Nakagawa, Rachel Wong Nicole Enos and Christian Mendoza.
The show will run Wednesdays and Sundays in the Monarch Room, Waikiki’s premiere showroom. While it bows July 4, the hotel had previous bookings, so production resumes July 15 and continues through Sept. 30.
Enos, who wrote the original music and lyrics, is a onetime Hawaii performer and host, whose credits include production work with the likes of Bette Midler and Kristin Chenoweth.

‘HONU BY THE SEA’
Premieres at 7 p.m. July 4; resumes July 15 and plays 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays through Sept. 30
Premium dinner package, from 5 p.m; with dinner from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.; $125 for adults, $85 for keiki 3 to 12, plus tax
Regular dinner package, $95 adults, $65 keiki; plus tax
Show only, $49 adults, $35 keiki; plus tax
Reservations: 921-4600

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Eco- and family-friendly 'Honu' musical due in Waikiki

April 22nd, 2012
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“Honu by the Sea,” a new musical by Island singer, composer and producer Johnson Enos, is expected to open this summer in Waikiki as a family-friendly entertainment with an ecological theme. The date and venue have not yet been revealed.
Vocal auditions were held this weekend at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch room, for a cast of young adults and adults who must be island residents.
Singers will be notified on April 23 for callbacks, to be held from April 24 to 27, with an eight-week rehearsal period starting May 1.
The show, created by Enos via Johnson Entertainment LLC, will explore eco-friendly issues through song and dance, dealing with the sea. Honu is the Hawaiian word for turtle.
Enos is a veteran performer in island shows, a former recording artist, and a producer-arranger for several Mainland acts over the years whose clients have included Bette Midler.
Ron Bright, the retired but still active educator-director of numerous Broadway musicals over his brilliant career as the foundation of the Castle Performing Arts Company during his tenure at Castle High School, will direct.
Presumably, if “Honu” settles into a Waikiki environment, it would need to attract both a visitor and local audience to sustain.

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Review: ‘Phantom’ a phenom as Paliku stages its best

September 12th, 2011
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Paliku Theatre comes of age with its stellar production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” extended with five new Wednesday shows through Oct. 23 at the Windward Community College campus. If you can secure humpday tickets, go and see for yourself.
On all fronts — vocal leads, ensemble casting, costuming, orchestral integrity, choral identity, choreographic splendor, set and light design and direction — “Phantom” is a phenom, the most expensive production ever mounted at Paliku, and easily the best ever. There’s simultaneous intimacy and spectacle throughout the show and ranks, from the falling chandelier to the Phantom’s moving-boat lair, from the grand masquerade ball to the splendid chemistry of lead and secondary players particularly in the execution of the “Notes” interplay that blends comedy with drama in the most exquisite sense.
Thanks to the ambitious vision of director Ronald Bright and the risky wisdom of theater manager Tom Holowach (who appears in a minor role as the outgoing manager of the Paris Opera House where the Phantom lurks and creates havoc for an opera company), the payoff ultimately is in the response of the public. Though “Phantom” — the longest and still-running musical on Broadway — has previously set record-setting houses in two separate visits by touring companies at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, this is a fully-realized home-grown effort by local talent and resources.
And it’s been embraced with sellout after sellout — hence the mid-week add-ons.
Indeed, there’s a lot to tout and applaud.
As the disfigured angel of music, Miles Wesley is a virile and hypnotic Phantom, bringing a youthful swagger to the fold. Lydia E. Pusateri, as the soprano Christine Daae, is incredibly seasoned as the object of the Phantom’s passion — and right on the money. As her other suitor, Raoul, Kyle Malis brings vigor and substance to the triangle. And Jaime Blu Craycroft is every bit the fiery prima donna as Carlotta, the resident diva.
Kudos, too, to character plays Douglas Scheer (Firmin) and Leonard J. Villanueva (Andre), the new opera house owners, who — with the other principals — help create a stunning tapestry of theatrics when the OG (opera ghost) sends instructional notes about his casting and yet-to-be-paid fees. Marliese Ahuna (Madame Giry) and Madison Eror (Meg Giry), as the ballet mistress and her daughter, complete the resourceful second-tier casting.
What Johnathan Reed lacks vocally in a scene or two as the buffoonish opera baritone Piangi, he makes up with joyous comedics.
Director Bright’s task, with parallel challenges for stage honcho Holowach, is to meet the level of professionalism of legit theater, working primarily with community players who share the passion of mounting an iconic project. His enthusiasm is matched by the generous energy and dedication from his players, in key and ensemble roles.
Clarke Bright’s musical direction is impeccable; but then, it’s in his genes (he’s the son of the director). His orchestral flourishes, from the daunting synthesized organ work to the subtle woodwind and brass riffs, enhance the vocal dynamics of the cast.
The Act 2 opening sequence is where all the elements sparkle and sizzle, with Mary Chesnut Hicks’ vocal direction, Adealani Malia’s choreography, Evette Tanouye Allerdings’ costume design and execution, Lloyd S. Riford III’s set and lighting design and R. Andrew Doan’s tech direction clicking to punctuate the drama and the flair in this defining “Phantom” scene, capped by the Phantom’s dominating red-costume appearance at the top of the grand staircase before he swooshes away in a puff of smoke.
That's the pinnacle of this "Phantom."
It’s comforting to recognize veteran community stage faces in the ensemble, along with a few newbies.
Finally, the Andrew Lloyd Webber score remains rich and ravishing, with more than a lion’s share of hummables and singables: “Music of the Night,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Masquerade,” “Think of Me,” “All I Ask of You” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.”
Even if you've experienced this on Broadway, on tour, or in an earlier rendering, this one's a gotta-see.

Wednesday ‘Phantom’
performances added;
beware of road detour

Demand for seats has prompted five additional performances of Paliku Theatre’s “The Phantom of the Opera” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 and 28 and Oct. 5, 12 and 19.
“We had already extended three times before we opened (Sept. 9), all the way to Sunday Oct. 23,” said Tom Holowach, manager of the Windward Community College theater.
He polled the cast to see if additional shows could be mounted, and the actors and musicians agreed.
Wednesday was the best night for the add-ons, because WCC has a heavy lead of night classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, making parking scarce. Wednesday classes end at 6:45 p.m., opening parking stalls for theater patrons.
However, because of road construction in front of the theater, normal right-hand access to Paliku Theatre is blocked.
Those attending all shows should detour (turn left instead) and head for the parking lot in a clockwise direction. Stalls on the back road, as well as an overflow sector, may also be used for parking.
Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays now through the extensions through Oct. 23; 7:30 p.m. for the new Wednesday playdates; no further matinees.
Tickets: $49 VIP, $45 adults, $40 discount, $30 students.
Reservations: 235-7310 or www.HawaiiOnstage.com.