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Music, dance, aerial stunts at Hilo’s Palace Theater

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Rehearsal for the “Vaudeville Variety Show” is under way at the Palace Theater on Wednesday afternoon.</p>


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Vaudeville, or an updated version of it, makes its return to Hilo this weekend as the Palace Theater presents its second annual “Vaudeville Variety Show.”

Showtimes are 7 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the historic downtown Hilo theater.

Clay Callaway, the show’s writer and director who shares emcee duties with Janelle Neiman, said that some of the acts are like what might have been found in a vaudeville review, a popular form of entertainment between the 1880s and early 1930s, but many have a more contemporary focus.

“That’s why we added the word ‘variety.’ Most people today don’t know what the heck vaudeville is in the most specific terms,” he said. “Of course, they didn’t have projection back then, but that’s how we do the backgrounds at the Palace to enhance the visual aspects of the show. We have the show logo, so we have a consistent look to the show, kind of branding, so to speak. But aside from that, we have one act that’s kind of an acrobatic sort of dance called ‘Cosmic Dance,’ so I’ve created sort of a background from cosmic animation and Hubbell telescope images and spiraling galaxies to go with the music track. And for the first time in Palace history, we have an aerial act, with the silks and all that, and she’ll be 20 feet in the air, doing the spinning and drops and all that with a beautiful projected kaleidoscope background.”

The Ragtag Ragtime Band is led by pianist Quack Moore — who also happens to be president of the Friends of the Palace — with guitarist Trever Veilleux, bassist Gonzo, drummer Bo Wade, violinist Jennifer Tiboris and woodwindists Randy Skaggs and Elan Kobel.

We’ve tried to fine-tune it to period-style music for the band. It’s not a big orchestra; it’s more like a vaudeville-style band, which is seven players,” Callaway said. The Palace pipe organ will also lend some period cred to the show, with Rick Mazurowski and Walter Greenwood at the controls.

Callaway said the 100-minute show will have 30 acts, including singers, musicians, dancers, comedians, acrobats, jugglers, the world’s worst magician, and other acts that have to be seen to be believed.

“It’s a nice variety of stuff,” he said. “I wrote a version of ‘Who’s on First’ in pidgin. It’s ‘Hu Dat on First’ — because it’s the Dat family, Hu Dat, Wat Dat and Dunno Dat. So far during rehearsals, it’s gotten many laughs.” Catherine McPherson and Evette Tampos are the updated, localized version of Abbott and Costello.

He also noted that the show is family friendly, with “no bad words or blue comedy material.”

Lina Manning, is the show’s choreographer, and will perform, as well. Callaway said she’ll do a variation of Lucille Ball’s classic bit “Vitameatavegamin,” with the fictional tonic as a faux sponsor for the show. Manning will also perform a song-and-dance with Callaway.

“The first time we’ve actually performed together since ‘Guys and Dolls’ 13 years ago,” he said. “We’ve worked together, side by side, but haven’t actually shared the stage in front of an audience for 13 years. We do a cute little soft-shoe number to an old Abe Burrows song about how we hate each other, but we still love each other.”

The Hiccup Circus will perform their unicycling, juggling and hoops stunts.

“Graham Ellis does an amazing job with those kids and I’m thoroughly impressed with their professionalism, their attentiveness and their good manners — not to mention their balance and juggling skills. They’re out of this world,” Callaway said.

One youthful circus member, Liberty Givens, has a recurring role in the show.

“She walks out onstage on top of a ball with a sign that might say ‘intermission’ or introducing the next act,” Callaway said.

Another highlight is 11-year-old Emerson Aynessazian, who Callaway describes as “a wonderfully talented singer.”

“That’s part of the fun of doing open auditions for these shows is that we find little diamonds in the rough, rehearse them a little bit and bring them onstage in a costume and background to make the proper environment to enhance their moment on the stage,” he said.

Also taking the stage are Gene Gold, Ty Lewis, Amy Horst, Leilehua Yuen, Lilia Cangemi and Stuart Hayter, Daniel Sloan, Jesse Dobbs, “The Pilsner Brothers” with Hal Glatzer and Richard Schutte, Tanya Anne, Norman Arancon and Janet Sharp, Jessica Dempsey and Danny, “Ginzu the Great”, “Chiquita the Flying Chicken” and the “Ragamuffin Fourtette” of Cristina Hussey, Erin Gallagher, Phill Russell and Arval Shipley.

Vaudeville shows usually have audience “plants” who heckle or interject for comedic effect — and Steve Peyton is ready to interrupt on cue.

“He wants to be in the show, so he pops in and says, ‘Hey, I’ve got this new act you’ve gotta see.’ And we go, ‘No, no no. We don’t want to see it.’ And of course, we end up seeing it anyway,” Callaway said.

The show is a fundraiser to rebuild the Palace stage, which Callaway said is “in horrible condition.”

“All the money raised will help ensure that we can keep producing great shows at the Palace,” he said.

Tickets are $10 advance, available at the Palace box office, and $15 door. Call 934-7010 for credit card orders.

Email John Burnett at


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