REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER
Three talented women and ace wig wrangler Greg Howell are the saving graces of Manoa Valley Theatre’s season-opening production of “The Honky Tonk Angels.” The women have great voices. Howell does an outstanding job with their hair. If only playwright Ted Swindley had provided them with better material to work with.
MVT has enjoyed consistent success over the years with jukebox musicals — shows that consist of a lot of popular songs strung along a minimal plot — and “Angels” certainly won’t be the last. Unfortunately, like several of its predecessors, it all too often holds up for ridicule the hits whose enduring popularity it is capitalizing on.
The searing emotion of “I Will Always Love You,” a hit first for Dolly Parton and then Whitney Houston, is extinguished with a trite throwaway joke. The defiant fatalism of “Nightlife” is sacrificed in favor of broad physical comedy. And no matter how abhorrent Hillary Rodham Clinton and many other women today find the sentiments expressed in “Stand By Your Man,” nothing in Tammy Wynette’s 1968 recording suggested any part of the song was sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek.
Other classics are vandalized with gratuitous changes to their lyrics — “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Harper Valley PTA” and “Ode To Billie Joe,” to name three. It’s mama, not papa, who dies in this version of the Bobbie Gentry hit, and we’re told that Billie threw a guitar off the bridge. None of this is necessary.
There are some good ideas that could have been developed without trashing the music. As it is, the overall impression is that Swindley either feels superior to country music on a personal basis or he believes mainstream audiences will accept country music only if it is presented as low-brow cornpone comedy.
Either way, the women in this story are written a bit less ham-handedly than he wrote Louise Seger in his “based on a true story” opus, “Always Š Patsy Cline.” In that show, MVT’s jukebox musical season-opener two years ago, Seger was an annoying stereotypical country yahoo. These women have a bit more humanity despite the minimal plot.
Angela (Anita Hall) leaves her good-timing husband and their six children to go to Nashville and become a star. Sue Ellen (Alison Aldcroft), childless and twice-divorced, leaves her job and unappealing boss to go to Nashville and become a star. Darleen (Amber Leilani Williams), young and unselfconsciously backwoods, leaves her widower father to go to Nashville and become a star.
They meet on the bus, share their stories and decide to work together as the Honky Tonk Angels. Act I establishes the premise and gets them to Nashville. As Act II opens, it’s six weeks later and they’re wrapping up a triumphant engagement in a Nashville nightclub.
Hall is well-known around town as a powerful pop singer but Aldcroft and Williams handle their share of the vocal load admirably as well. All three do best when the script and MVT guest director Grace Bell let them dial down the stage-country accents and get into the emotion of the lyrics rather exploiting them for cheap laughs. “Amazing Grace,” “Delta Dawn,” “Calling All Angels” and “Almost Persuaded” show what they can do when they’re allowed to sing unimpeded.
“Cornell Crawford,” a minor country hit in the early ’90s, gives Aldcroft an opportunity to entertain solo on rollerskates. “Fancy” showcases Williams’ talents as an actress and song stylist. Several other songs also would be highlights were it not for the ill-advised cornball bits that mar them.
As for Howell, he scores success after success with wigs that range from more-or-less realistic to pure classic country to absolutely ridiculous.
Musical director Lina Doo’s band is another asset. Give Doo credit for recruiting fiddler Lisa Gomes to add a bit of country edge to a score that doesn’t recreate the original hits.
“The Honky Tonk Angels”
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 26
Cost: $35 ($30 military and seniors, $25 ages 25 and younger)
Info: 988-6131 or www.manoavalleytheatre.com
Review by John Berger
Country star Tim McGraw’s recent hit, “If You’re Reading This,” includes the words: “If you’re reading this / There’s gonna come a day / When you’ll move on / And find someone else / And, Baby, that’s OK.”
Manoa Valley Theatre’s summer production of “Once Upon One Time” shows that the sentiment can apply equally well to theater.
The show is the first community theater production of playwright Lisa Matsumoto’s definitive pidgin musical since her tragic death in 2007, and only the second time another actor has had to play a role Matsumoto wrote and developed for herself. The tight-knit core group of actors Matsumoto featured in her shows over the years are absent for other reasons, but their absence heightens the sense of moving on. MVT guest director Elitei Tatafu Jr., and his talented cast make that surprising easy to do.
After all, the show is still her ever-popular amalgamation of ideas from MAD magazine, Rocky & Bullwinkle’s “Fractured Fairy Tales,” Kent “K.K. Ka‘umanua” Bowman, and Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s On First?” routine. It’s a recipe that never gets old for Hawaii audiences, and, as always, the comic characters stand out. Read more
The popular pidgin musical comedy “Once Upon One Time” is in revival.
Written by the late Lisa Matsumoto, with a libretto by Paul Palmore and Roslyn Catracchia, the production adapts and intertwines familiar fairy tales into a fun Hawaiian-kine fantasy for the whole family.
The action takes place in a mythical local kingdom where outrageous characters meet for one crazy, kapakahi adventure.
Characters include Noelani an da Six Menehunes, Kekoa and Maile, Red Rose Haku, Da Keed Who Wen Cry Mongoose, and many more. Featured actors include Pomai Lopez, Tesia Worley, Jessica Kauhane, Daryl Bonilla, KoDee Martin and Leilyn Lui.
Catracchia is guest music director, Elitei Tatafu Jr. guest director, and Kat Jones guest choreographer.
» Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road
» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 8
» Cost: $35 general admission, $30 for seniors and military, $20 for those under 26 years old
» Info: 988-6131 or www.manoavalleytheatre.com
» Note: All seats are non-reserved
Stages light up for May
Courtesy Diamond Head Theatre
‘GUYS AND DOLLS’
Presented by Diamond Head Theatre (pictured)
» Where: 520 Makapuu Ave.
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through May 30; also 3 p.m. May 22 and 29
» Cost: $12 to $42 (discounts available)
» Call: 733-0272
Presented by IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre
» Where: Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.
» When: 8 p.m. today
» Cost: $25 to $45; $5 discount for students, seniors and military
» Call: 528-0506
‘THE HILO MASSACRE’
Presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre
» Where: 46 Merchant St.
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays from Thursday through June 20
» Cost: $16 (discounts available for seniors, students and groups of 10 or more)
» Call: 536-4441
Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre
» Where: 2833 E. Manoa Road
» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays from Thursday through June 6
» Cost: $30, $25 for seniors and military, $15 for those under age 26
» Call: 988-6131
By John Berger
It’s no secret Honolulu has a tremendously large and diverse community theater following, but the scene is busier and more diverse than usual this month.
Never mind the shows that have already come and gone since April ended — Morgan Lane-Tanner’s imaginative “adult” puppet production, “Madge’s Shimmy Shack,” at the UH-Manoa Earle Ernst Lab Theatre and T-Shirt Theatre’s production of “Bully…too?” at the Farrington High School Auditorium. Set aside thoughts of the shows that opened in the first two weeks of the month and are still running — Moses Goods III in an encore run of “The Legend of Kaulula’au” at the ARTS at Marks Garage and Army Community Theatre’s production of “Threepenny Opera,” which opened just last night.
Disregard for the moment as well the Kennedy Theatre double bill “The Judith of Shimoda”/”Mahagonny Songspiel,” which played for a weekend early in the month and which will return for three more performances next weekend. Focus instead on the two shows taking the stage tonight and two more that will open on Thursday.
Cheryl Flaharty and the IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre celebrate the group’s 20th anniversary with “Akasha,” a compilation of five new works celebrating the four elements — earth, air, water and fire — along with several “fan favorites” from previous shows. Flaharty has teamed with Kaveh Kardan from UH-Manoa’s Academy for Creative Media to create a piece in which projected animation interacts with dancers.
Other new pieces represent mankind being born from the earth, water and the life within it, the movement of a flame and a portrayal of light and equilibrium. One of the numbers from previous productions is “Angels Have Landed,” with six dancers in silver body makeup suspended above the audience and performing as moving sculptures.
Click here to read the rest of this story.
Adult puppet play
Courtesy Manoa Valley Theatre
With a little help, Madge, right, is mistress of ceremonies of “The Shimmy Shack Burlesque Club,” along with sidekick Rocky.
“MADGE’S SHIMMY SHACK”
Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre
» Where: Earle Ernst Lab Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa
» When: 11 p.m. tomorrow and 2 p.m. Sunday; also 11 p.m. next Friday and May 8
» Cost: $10 general admission; $8 for seniors, military, UH faculty/staff and non-UHM students; $5 for UHM students with valid ID
» Info: 956-7655 or hawaii.edu/kennedy
» Note: Recommended for audiences 13 and up
By John Berger
Puppets and shows they appear in are usually assumed to be children’s entertainment, and most of them are — with the noteworthy exceptions of “Team America: World Police” and “Avenue Q.”
Well, get ready, Honolulu. “Adult” puppet theater is coming soon!
Manoa Valley Theatre will be presenting its version of “Avenue Q” in 2011, but there’s no need to wait until then. University of Hawaii-Manoa MFA candidate Morgan Lane-Tanner’s fresh and entirely original production, “Madge’s Shimmy Shack,” described as a “totally adult puppet burlesque review,” opens tomorrow at the Earle Earnst Lab Theatre.
“An adult puppet show is pretty different, particularly for Hawaii,” Lane-Tanner acknowledged last weekend. She conceived and wrote the show, and also designed puppets that are significantly different in size and operation from the “Sesame Street”-style hand puppets seen in “Avenue Q.”
“These are larger and a little more complicated,” she explained. “You could almost say that they’re based on (the Japanese puppet tradition of) bunraku. They’ve gone pretty far away from that, but they probably started there.”
Click here to read the rest of this story.
‘Spelling Bee’ puts you to the test
‘THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE’
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; continues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 4 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 9 (no performance July 4)
Cost: $30 general admission; $25 for seniors and military; $15 for those 25 and under
Info: 988-6131 or hsblinks.com/9k
Have you ever thought about how much fun it could be to participate in local theater, but realized that you didn’t have enough time to commit to weeks of rehearsals and then the run of the show?
Or maybe you didn’t want to go through the rigors of a “Chorus Line”-style audition only to be told when it was all over, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Well, Manoa Valley Theatre’s upcoming production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” could be your ticket to a night on stage.
“Putnam” is a one-act musical comedy about a middle school spelling bee, and three or four members of the audience are invited up on stage each night to compete alongside the “kids.”
“Our coordinator will be sussing up the crowd and choosing people to hand an application to and see if they would like to apply to be one of the spellers,” MVT Producing Director Dwight Martin explained last weekend. “It’s not like there’ll be a table you’ll walk up to and just automatically sign up — you have to look like a speller.”
Or at least look like a speller who can work well with others in the context of a contemporary comedy. Theater experience and/or the ability to correctly spell words more than two letters long is not required.
“We want people who have a comic spirit, but not some one who is going to meddle with the show,” Martin said.
Click here to read the rest of this story.
MVT HONORS 40 AT 40th ANNIVERSARY PARTY
Photos by John Berger / email@example.com
Jeff Portnoy, left, Bree Bumatai, Gary Anderson and Dwight Martin were four of the 39 individuals and businesses recognized for their contributions and support at Manoa Valley Theatres 40 Years Forty Stars party Sunday at the Hawaii Convention Center.
Anderson was one of the three founders of what was originally the Hawaii Performing Arts Company (HPAC); Portnoy has been board president for 18 years, and Martin has served MVTs artistic and administrative director for 29 years.
Bumatai has been involved with the group for all four decades as an actor, volunteer and director; she is currently associate producer. FYI, the 40th honoree was You every one else who has contributed to the development and success of the theatre since 1969. Read more