A lot of us are still savoring the afterglow of "Miss Saigon" after its triumphant two-weekend run in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater.
Following last summer's "Les Miserables," MAPA Artistic Director David Johnston is establishing a new Maui tradition, bringing Broadway epics to the Castle Theater stage. He has to count on local talent in place of $7.5 million Broadway budgets, but the audience's emotions get just as touched.
Choreographer Andre Morisette had a lot to do with creating the kaleidoscope of impressions and emotions that transported the audience back to the last days of the Vietnam War, where this love story is set. Sharon Zalsos is Kim, the innocent but war-scarred 17-year-old girl from the country making her "debut" at the Dreamland nightclub in 1975 Saigon. The Viet Cong are advancing, the U.S. Embassy will fall in a matter of hours.
Ricky Jones brings an awesome voice to the role of Chris, the American G.I. who falls in love with her on first sight. In spite of his best intentions to marry her and bring her home, he is forced to abandon her as he is thrown on the last chopper out of Saigon.
Like "Madame Butterfly," Kim maintains her love for him through the ensuing years of turbulent change in her homeland. The story of "Miss Saigon" unfolds through song on a stage where time is out of order and the sets are in constant change. Kepa Cabanilla-Aricayos as Engineer, Neil Clevenger as John, Leighana Locke as Ellen, Barry Kawakami as Thuy and Hoku Pavao as Gigi are the principals, lending their wonderful voices to telling the story that everyone in the audience knows in advance won't end well.
A signature of Johnston's considerable contribution to Maui's cultural life comes not just in his artistic vision, but in his creative audacity in tackling projects on this scale - emotional as well as logistical - then leading local performers to new personal heights as they capture both the power and the nuance of their characters.
"Miss Saigon" left the audience with some tears but excited, wondering what he and the company will do to top it next year.
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Vietnam was a time as well as a place in American history, and audiences will have a chance to revisit it Sept. 12 when Robin Williams' classic "Good Morning Vietnam" screens as the centerpiece of a free "movie and a message" from Mental Health Kokua, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Historic Iao Theater.
KONI radio host Joe Hawkins, comedian Bud Bowles, Ellen Peterson's Kit Kat Club, musician Jamie Gallo and yours truly will participate in this tribute to the beloved actor/comic as well as to our vets.
Robin's death has focused attention on the demons he battled while he was making us laugh. Suicide rates are spiraling; mental health issues affect huge numbers of us. The evening of laughter and mental health awareness is dedicated to creating a new legacy of not being afraid to reach out for help when you need it.
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Last Friday evening, across the street from "Miss Saigon," emcee Tony Takitani led UH-Maui College faculty and staff in a surprise fond farewell to Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto, retiring after 41 years at the college. Spirits were high; roasting and toasting were in order for the visionary college leader who brought his wife, Gerrianne Sakamoto, to the podium to share in the outpouring of affection.
The new semester began Monday. We can look forward to months of careful planning interrupted by chaos. Good intentions and bad excuses. A never-ending search for can openers to pry open minds. Strategies to help students accomplish things they didn't think they could.
For teachers, it's all about turning on light bulbs above students' heads.
Last week, I attended our annual beginning-of-the-year English Department meeting. Prompted by department head Laura Lees, we did what kids always do on the first day of school - we talked about what we did on summer vacation.
Besides being part of the team bringing TEDxMaui back to the MACC Sept. 28, Emma White went off to teach in China.
Eric Engh and his wife, Emily, went to Rome and Paris. Poet Iris Moon is training for two relays - the Lanai Channel Swim and the winding run to Hana. Jackie Pias Carlin has a new book, "Aunty's Place," set for release this fall. Paul Wood managed to complete two books.
When did the faculty get so smart, so talented, so cool? It's beginning to feel like a real college over there.
Thanks, Clyde, for building it for us.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at email@example.com or 344-9535.