Smooth and velvety, Scott Skiba’s baritone voice set the tone for Along The Way as he welcomed the audience to the third of the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival (HPAF) concerts Friday night at Kahilu Theatre. Skiba serves as Assistant Artistic Director of the Festival and the audience rippled with excitement in great anticipation of (two more!) festival favorites, Justin John Moniz’ and Phil Kadet’s show. COVID protocols again only permitted 100 of 490 physical seats to be filled, but many more tuned in virtually via Kahilu.TV.
As the lights went down, the stage showcased the gorgeous Steinway Concert Grand, contemporary white geometric shapes, and foliage. Kadet and Moniz took their places, while behind them on the huge screen we viewed the recent trailer for the album they recently recorded and released, of the same title. How thrilling to see this trailer, larger than life – then as the lights came up, the two multi-talented and strikingly handsome men – Phil Kadet (at the piano he helped choose for Kahilu at the Steinway Factory in Astoria, Queens) and Justin John Moniz, the lyric tenor, were Live, In-Person!
Kudos to the production and sound team for the appropriate adjustment after the trailer. Moniz started at HPAF as a student in 2009; after a decade-plus of experience, multiple degrees, credits and awards he currently serves as the Executive Director of the Festival. Kadet and Moniz met through HPAF, collaborating on two “The Stork Club” cabarets at the Hapuna Resort. Their individual and more recent collaborative career accomplishments have been a joy to watch over the eight years; living proof of HPAF’s mission to “promote the appreciation and advancement of classical music and musical theater, to offer a world-class music training and performance program….”
Dr. Moniz shared tales of personal experiences as he narrated the program of American Songbook and contemporary musical theatre numbers. Song highlights include the appropriate ‘Blue Skies”; how his career was pivoted in the summer of 2013 from understudy to a principal artist singing in an Irving Berlin review; a WOW 4-hand piano duet played in dynamic precision with Kadet on Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” His rendition of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables held special meaning to the award-winning tenor as he recanted the 2017 rescue here of an abused and now, his beloved dog, Chance.
HPAF fans and supporters have followed Phil Kadet since his first year in 2013 participating as a collaborative pianist – Kadet was discovered by HPAF Founder Val Underwood in New York City and invited him to join the Festival. A personal highlight for Kadet was meeting his wife, Kate, a beautiful soprano opera singer from California, at HPAF. His amazing arrangements and talents span from classical through contemporary genres, and it was a delight to watch his technique in hand cross-overs on the keyboard. Kadet fans have joyfully anticipated his annual piano shows at the Honu Bar at the Mauna Lani Resort and the Fairmont Orchid and were fortunate to view many live performances via Facebook during the past Pandemic year. Sharing their joy as they expect their first child in the fall, Kadet soulfully sang “What A Wonderful World.”
Nyla Watson, who stars in HPAF’s final concert Rise Up, sang two duets with Moniz, who shared how in his interview for the position at NYU, he was observed as he met and coached her for the first time. One eagerly anticipates her Sunday afternoon concert with Ana Flavia Zuim on piano.
Intelligent, articulate, handsome, a gifted singer and musician (he started with tenor saxophone and was terrific on the piano with Kadet), the appointment of Dr. Moniz as Executive Director of the Festival has brought HPAF to new heights earning international acclaim. The Mikado won third place in the National Opera Association Production Competition and Sweeney Todd is a finalist in The American Prize in Musical Theatre Performance, both directed by Moniz. HPAF has won second place in The American Prize in Arts Marketing and third place in Arts Education.
The Festival’s mission to “elevate the spirit of all who participate, especially the local community” is being fulfilled in its 17th season here on the Big Island. In going “green,” the Festival has gone to an online program which you can view at www.hawaiiperformingartsfestival.org. One wished that the spread-out audience was louder in their cries of “Hana Hou” (Encore!) If you would like to hear more, as this reviewer does, look up www.justinjohnmoniz.com and www.philkadet.com.
If you missed it, not to worry! You have the privilege to see it on Kahilu.TV with the annual subscription, which is a tremendous bargain. Mahalo nui to Along The Way sponsors Hawaii Public Radio, Dr. Steve Kaplan, and the Kahilu Theatre. Until we meet again at the Theatre…A Hui Hou!
About the author: Rona Lee studied theatre arts and film at SUNY Purchase (Conservatory – College of Performing Arts) and Communications at the University of Arizona. She traveled abroad with Up WIth People! (1983-84) and moved to the Big Island from New York in 1990.
Photos: Steve Roby