The Kahilu Theatre in Waimea is presenting its first homegrown musical theater production since its founder, Broadway actor and singer Richard Smart, who owned Parker Ranch, died in 1992.
New York theater veteran Beth Dunnington, who moved to Waimea six years ago, is directing the Kahilu’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a hit musical comedy about a fictional middle school spelling bee that won six Tony awards.
Six adolescents in the throes of puberty compete in the bee, which is conducted by three adults who barely escaped adolescence — creating a charming and hilarious tale highlighting overachievers’ angst.
Performances are 7 p.m. Saturday night and 2 p.m. Sunday.
The University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center put on its own production of “The Bee” as its 2011 spring musical, but Dunnington said she didn’t see it or even know about it.
“This is the first musical for the Kahilu in over 20 years and I thought it would be fun to have one with audience participation,” she said.
The audience participation will come from four prominent local spellers: cosmetic surgeon Dr. John Stover, a noted patron of the arts; state Rep. Cindy Evans, of Kona; Waimea Middle School Principal Matt Horne; and Richard Braithwaite, English Department chairman at Hawaii Preparatory Academy.
The cast is all local actors ages 16-21. Four are performing arts college students: Marena Faye Dunnington, a junior at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania; Brown University junior Daniel Gregg; HanaSara Ito, of the University of Montana; and Aidan Wharton, a freshman at Pace University in New York City, home to The Actor’s Studio. The other five actors are high school students: Leilani Bostock, Harmony Graziano and Eliana Kaplan, all of HPA; and Sophie Dommer and Sean Dunnington, of Parker School.
The young actors are all seasoned performers of the local stage, having played leads and featured roles in Parker, HPA, and Waimea Community Theatre productions, and almost all the cast members have performed in Dunnington’s previous “Broadway” concerts. She described the cast as “fabulous.”
“I’ve been working with most of these kids as an acting coach, acting teacher and directing them in concerts over the years,” Dunnington said. “It’s really nice to be working with basically the same kids I’ve worked with for the past six years, since I’ve moved here.”
Accompanying the actors will be a four-piece musical ensemble, featuring musical director Taylor Stephenson, who recently won an Ovation Award, Los Angeles’ version of the Tony, for Best Musical Direction of the West Coast premiere of “Triassic Parq: The Musical” at the Chance Theater.
“He’s only in his 20s, but he’s an amazing talent,” Dunnington said. “He knows this show inside and out. We flew him in from L.A. and we’re really fortunate to have him.”
The other musicians are: Jesse Snyder, saxophonist for the Grammy-nominated Hawaiian swing band Kahulanui, on reeds; cellist Jing Jing Tsong, who plays with the Latin gypsy funk band Leche De Tigre; and drummer/percussionist Diesel Tucker, who played with the renowned alternative country band The Shivers, and who now calls Waimea home.
Dunnington is a member of the Kahilu’s board, and said she thinks it’s important to present locally produced musicals at the theater to honor the legacy of Smart, who would perform in, and sometimes direct, up to three musicals a year.
“I believe his spirit is here at the Kahilu Theatre,” she said.
Tickets are $10, $15, $20 and $25 for both performances, with discounts available to Kahilu Theatre members. Advance tickets are available at www.kahilutheatre.org. Tickets are also available 9 a.m.-noon at the box office or by calling 885-6868.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.