The Producers

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TO PARAPHRASE STEPHEN SONDHEIM, theater persists because everyone brings something more to their role. That is never so true as it is now with community theaters around town. The collaborative effort usually expected of actors, directors and producers is now embraced by more of the community to provide an entertaining mix of shows for all to enjoy.

Manoa Valley Theatre’s (MVT) producing director, Dwight Martin, explains everyone is rolling up their sleeves to continue the work they believe in.

“We remain focused on delivering quality plays to the people of Hawai’i.”

MVT is enjoying a bright season, and the theater community from points beyond has pitched in as well: Pam Arciero, a professional puppeteer on Sesame Street, has helped with Avenue Q. “She’s traveled to Honolulu twice in the past 60 days to give us hands-on help,” Martin explains.

Later in the season, Larry Pellegrini, show creator and original Off-Broadway director, guest-directs Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. “We’re thrilled to have him at the helm of our project,” Martin says.

This theater’s winning formula involves bringing contemporary work from Broadway and Off-Broadway to town.

“We’re delighted to be able to present Avenue Q‘s Hawai’i premiere,” he says. “The success that it’s enjoyed is positive, and it’s a good show for our core audience. And I don’t think any other theater would touch it,” he concludes.

Before Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding (June 30-July 17) closes out the season, August: Osage County (May 19-June 5), an award-winning black comedy, takes the stage.

Over at Diamond Head Theatre (DHT), its chosen path to maintaining a successful season is cut from a different cloth. It leans toward the tried-and-true Broadway canon that delivers the classic musical or comedy with a twist. It has been a formula that works wonders for the 96-year-old venue.

“Our audience expects big Broadway musicals,” comments executive director Deena Dray. “But, at the same time, the performers want to be engaged. We can’t simply do Oklahoma! all the time. So we try to mix it up…that way, even if you know and love a particular play, you’ll experience something new with us.”

Guest performers also help keep things fresh. As Dray points out, “Bringing in guest artists really expands the talent of our local actors. It really ‘ups their game’ as they work alongside and learn from the professionals. In addition to being a mentor for the cast during the course of the production, the guest artist usually holds several workshops that are open to the public.”

In the case of DHT, its welcoming guest artist Paolo Montalban to the stage in The King and I. Montalban is best known as the Prince in the ABC/Disney movie-musical Cinderella, opposite the multi-talented Brandy.

As you’d expect, with a current season lineup that includes Broadway classics such as The King and I, Altar Boyz (May 20-June 5) and Hairspray (July 15-31), it isn’t packing in the younger crowd-which is OK.

“Generally, I don’t think that we cater to a younger audience,” Dray explains. “Empty-nesters are our main audience as well as families with kids.”

DHT seems well-positioned to continue bringing quality productions to Hawai’i for years to come.

“We can’t rely solely on ticket sales since it only covers about 47 percent of our total budget. However, we do rely on tons of community support. And I’m proud to say that we’re in the black this year and have been for the past 15 years. But, now that I’ve said it, don’t jinx it.”

People like to call Kahilu Theatre on the Big Island a “hidden gem,” but it’s one that they’d like everyone to discover. For the 490-seat theater built by Richard Smart (and named after his mother), the special challenge was incorporating a 30th anniversary with a slow economy.

“After much deliberation, the board determined that to truly celebrate this anniversary in the finest style, the 30th anniversary season needed to include the whole community,” says managing director Janet Coburn.

To achieve this, the theater split the season into two parts: Half were ticketed and the other half, named the Makana Series, were open and free to the public.

“The Makana Series helped provide arts access to that portion of the community that’s unable to purchase tickets,” she added.

While Kahilu Theatre focuses on bringing a diverse group of performances to Waimea each season, it’s greatly helped with partnerships with other venues such as Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Chamber Music Hawaii and The East-West Center, among others. The group of presenters work cooperatively to bring artists to the state and share transportation costs.

For Honolulu Theatre for Youth (HTY), doing more with less is about distilling ideas to create a cohesive season. This year’s themed “Season of Science” is a first for the 56-year-old theater. “We do enjoy great community support,” says artistic director Eric Johnson, coming off the glow of a showing of Apollo to the Moon and a much-buzzed-about fundraiser attended by Daniel Dae Kim.

“Many foundations and individuals have been generous to us,” Johnson says. He points to Target for donating all the money to subsidize buses for Title 1 School students to see the shows. “We also have cool indirect support,” he adds, pointing to local lion dance troupes who are helping HTY with a piece for next season. Even HTY’s home of five years, Tenney Theatre, is a generous donation of space by The Cathedral of St. Andrew.

So, if money were no object, what would their dream season be?

“Honestly, my dream season would be the season we’re already doing,” states Martin from MVT. Johnson also knows what that dream season looks like. “I think my dream season is next season,” he says. “It’s all original works celebrating the cultures of Hawai’i.” For Dray at DHT, it’s not the lineup that matters.

“It’s about what the audience is feeling, what they’re saying to each other as they’re walking out. If they’re saying ‘great show,’ then that’s my dream season.”

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