Exclusive musical revue welcomes audiences back to live theatre
Musical Theatre International’s (MTI) All Together Now! was designed for local theatres to perform live as the world recovers from the pandemic. MTI is providing schools and theatres around the globe with an exclusive musical revue featuring songs from MTI’s beloved shows, all free-of-charge (no royalties).
Over 2,500 organizations from all 50 states and 40 countries/territories signed up to participate in the event over the Nov. 12-15 weekend. Over 5,500 individual performances were seen by over 1 million audience members. The Kahilu’s 500-seat theatre was limited to 100 in the live audience, but many others watched on Kahilu TV subscriptions.
Friday night’s show was memorable as the Kahilu Youth Troupe, under the direction of Beth Dunnington, represented the State of Hawaii. The past year-and-a-half has been highly challenging for theatrical organizations, and MTI is offering this exclusive musical revue to support the thousands of theatres that are persevering under trying circumstances. This reviewer was fortunate to see the Hawaii Performing Arts Stars of Tomorrow in July, also directed by Dunnington, which included several of Friday nights’ performers. It was thrilling to see these young artists develop over the four months since that HPAF show.
The excitement was palpable in the theatre as masked ushers and patrons shared greetings. When the lights went down, the big screen descended, and we were treated to previews of upcoming Kahilu shows. When Chuck Gessert, Kahilu Theatre’s Artistic Director, came out to greet the audience and share his heart over what had happened these past 20 months at the venue, tears welled up. Kudos to the Board and staff who transitioned to Kahilu TV, a brilliant strategy to keep the Theatre going.
The opening number, “Pure Imagination” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, led with Bridge Hartman’s smooth vocals. There were several breakout numbers, favorites included the ensemble choreographed by talented 19-year-old cast member Aria Wiley. “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof featured Noelani Loughery Kawaihoa, Olivia Malouf, and Adrianna Zablan – a simple yet brilliant showcase of the three young ladies’ voices. When Zablan comes out halfway through the number and puts the shawl over her head, you could visually see her transition into “Yentl” (the Matchmaker), a delight to watch and hear!
“We’re All In This Together” from Disney’s High School Musical had high energy choreography, with Benito Mercia, in ensemble mode, joyful in his dancing. An inspiration to watch – you just want to get up on the stage with the kids and join in! Mercia continues to grow in his craft, this time soloing “Cafe Song/Empty Chairs Empty Tables” (Les Misérables) and playing guitar with Ryan Hooley and Olivia Malouf in another ensemble number, “Good Riddance/Time of your Life” from Green Day’s American Idiot. I was glad to see Mercia’s delicate facial features with his hair pulled back as he has matured and developed over several years. One fondly remembers Mercia and fellow cast member Eric Gee in a brilliant performance years ago at Davies Chapel in “It’s All for The Best” (Godspell), and these two young performers have grown at least a foot taller. Another favorite was “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” from Guys and Dolls with Bridge Hartman as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, a full cast with fantastic choreography!
The training was under musical director Zeke Israel, and the solos were incredible – such talented youth! “Meadowlark,” from The Baker’s Wife, by Olivia Malouf. “This is the Moment,” from Jekyll and Hyde, by Bridge Hartman. “Human Heart,” from Once on This Island, by Jerneen Kauahi. “She Used to be Mine,” from Waitress, by Noelani Loughery Kawaihoa. “Astonishing,” from Little Women, by Adrianna Zablan in particular showed stamina for those long notes and fine acting. Keep an eye out for Hartman, Kauahi, Kawaihoa, Malouf and Zablan, too. These young performers are the stars of tomorrow.
In a nod to Matilda the Musical, the show that was sadly but wisely canceled in August due to the rising Delta Variant numbers, the cast performed “When I Grow Up” with brilliant lighting and choreography, using large, inflated bouncing balls! Other energy-packed ensemble numbers were “Seize the Day” from Newsies and a sweet duet of “Stop the World” from Come From Away (20th anniversary of Sept. 11 this year) with Ryan Hooley and Olivia Malouf.
Fittingly, the closing number was “Seasons of Love” (Rent). Such love, sweat, and tears to put on this production! This reviewer salutes the entire cast, Beth Dunnington, Chuck Gessert, Zeke Israel, choreographer Aria Wiley, and Paul Buckley’s Waimea Music crew for an inspiring production.
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