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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 29, 2002

'Talk Story' unites HTY, Kumu Kahua

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

From left, Nara Springer Cardenas, BullDog and Cynthia See are ready for "Christmas Talk Story," opening this weekend.

Brad Goda

'Christmas Talk Story'

A collaboration by Honolulu Theatre for Youth and Kumu Kahua Theatre, featuring 17 original Christmas tales

Premieres at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; repeats at 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 7, 14 and 21; and 8 p.m. Dec. 6, 13 and 20

Tenney Theatre, St. Andrew's Cathedral

$16 general, $12 students, $8 children


With "Christmas Talk Story," opening this weekend, the Honolulu Theatre for Youth and Kumu Kahua are partnering in what could evolve into an annual holiday tradition of bringing homespun tales from local authors to the community.

The show's concept is not new, but the teaming is — at least during this season. HTY and Kumu have engaged in two previous co-productions, but this one looks like a keeper.

"For us, partnering is not just for the money," said Mark Lutwak, HTY's artistic director, who also is directing the production. "It's building families. Three actors in our cast — BullDog, Nara Springer Cardenas and Cynthia See — have roots in both theaters. Harry Wong III (Kumu's artistic director) and I are in the pit band. So we're literally in this together."

Wong feels the team effort will yield positive results, with one group helping the other.

"We're already seeing it among our season subscribers," said Wong. "Our single-ticket buyers and season subscribers are larger than HTY's, and some season subscribers, who already have two tickets, are inquiring about getting two more, for their kids."

Lutwak made the initial choices for holiday vignettes, which he ran by Wong. "There was little argument about what we selected," Lutwak said.

Many of the artists had previous credits at Kumu, including Lee Tonouchi, Gary Pak, Darrell Lum; Y York, also a contributor, is resident playwright at HTY. Yokanaan Kearns earlier wrote "Pidg Latin," an HTY-Kumu collaboration. A number of other community voices were tapped, including Diane Aoki, Margaret Jones, Jason Kanda, Dot Saurer, Susan Lee St. John, Gary Tachiyama, Daryl Bonilla, Rochelle dela Cruz, Kathryn Heath, David Ray Mulinix, Robert St. John and Shay Youngblood.

Their original tales have a common thread: They focus on the holiday spirit, as seen through the eyes of local children as they discover the joys of giving, the values of 'ohana, the discovery of diversity in celebrations.

"We pay our actors, and everyone else involved in the production, so there is a financial burden," Lutwak said of the collaboration. "There's no hierarchy, where half get a salary and the other half don't, so there is a (risk) to fund the salaries."

Both directors feel the timeliness of the program — a montage of feel-good holiday cheer — is right on target, and the venue, Tenney Theatre at St. Andrew's Cathedral, is equally perfect.

As Wong puts it: "It's right there, in the heart of town, in the middle of 'Honolulu City Lights.' Families can go to the show, then see the Christmas displays. It's a good combo."

The productions will be an hour long for school audiences starting next week; the weekend family shows will be two acts, double the running time, with a "surprise guest" component at each show. The buzz is the folks from the music community (shhhh, the opening guest will be Tanner Henderson from Chant, who sometimes acts, too) will pop in for the holiday partying.

With one bridge in place with Kumu, HTY is eager to foster and develop links with other theater groups. Lutwak said that "if the right project comes along, why couldn't we do something with Diamond Head Theatre or Manoa Valley Theatre? We've talked and the issue is not so much material, but scheduling."

HTY is reaching out, too, to the classical and operatic worlds. A scaled-down version of Dr. Seuss operas was staged at Richardson Theatre in the past, a project that could evolve into a partnership with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and the Hawai'i Opera Theatre.

"The focus would be at the young people, but obviously we'd reach for a larger public," he said.

Wong sees build-the-audience values in the partnerships. "When I was young, HTY was my only contact with theater, through school performances," said Wong. "If we develop a theater-going habit with youngsters through HTY now, maybe in the future they'll come to Kumu Kahua."