Castle alums stage own revue
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
"Raise Your Voice," a Broadway musical revue, should elevate the profiles of six theater vets convening for five performances starting tonight at the Ronald E. Bright Theatre.
Rather than sit and wait for roles, they created their own show — to flag their Asian roots in the process — only to discover that audition quests landed parts for two actors with Island ties.
As Alexander Selma, one of the featured troupers, said: " 'Raise Your Voice' will be semi-autobiographical because we're going to share songs and stories about our love for theater and shows we've been in. We'll tell stories of how the theater affected us earlier, and how it continues to affect us now."
Selma and his actress wife Jenni Selma have been married for three years and have four dogs. He is an alumnus of the Castle Performing Arts Company, so the musical is a homecoming. Both came here for a tribute to mentor Ronald E. Bright last May.
Cliffton Hall and his actress wife Deedee Magno-Hall are new parents; their son Kaeden Ryley Hall was born four months ago. He also is a CPAC alum (yes, a Bright product, too) and is eager to perform for hometowners because the couple was on the verge of parenthood and unable to do the Bright tribute.
Michael K. Lee and Kim Varhola are newly engaged; they have no Hawai'i ties but savor the bond their musical peers have with their beloved home base.
"It's the nature of the (theatrical) business to wait for the right auditions to come along, but in this instance we are friends writing our own show, to make work for ourselves — between shows," said Selma.
They have known each other for several years. Turns out they've also emerged as three couples. "Raise Your Voice," however, is their first joint venture.
"Our lives are such that we've become separated, for different reasons," said Hall in a conversation from Denver, where he was to open the Tony Award-winning "Wicked." "When we decided to do the show in Hawai'i, I didn't have anything planned. But after auditioning for 'Wicked' in San Francisco (where it closed, to move on to Denver), I got a call and an offer. I had to negotiate a week off, so I can do this (Castle) show."
"Wicked," the musical that is a prequel to "The Wizard of Oz," turns out to be at the end of Selma's latest rainbow, too. He auditioned for the show in New York and found out, while here, that he's landed a part in the Chicago company.
"This means that Jenni and I will probably tie up loose ends in Los Angeles, where we live, and see if we can rent the house — and move with our four dogs to survive the winter in Chicago," said Selma. "But it will be nice to have a Hawai'i friend in Mahiai (Mahiai Kekumu, another local lad and Castle alumnus), who joined the show this summer."
"Raise Your Voice" will embrace many tunes from shows that they've done, along with a cachet of tunes rarely performed but are part of a Broadway performer's elite list of must-dos.
The show, produced by Pocket Aces Productions and the Castle Performing Arts Center, also is touted as a vehicle for Asian American actors who still don't have the luxury of easily landing roles, said Selma.
"That we all have achieved our dreams, in our own ways, is a testament to the perseverance it takes to be in this business," he said. "I always tell kids who want to act to savor the time learning the craft. You do it for the art. I feel fortunate to be able to make a living performing, because that's what I really enjoy doing."
Asians still have a tough time to break through barriers.
"We're sort of the last minority. Hispanics, even (East) Indians have less trouble finding work, but for Asians, ethnicity often is a factor," said Selma. "Then again, I feel blessed with good genes; although I'm 27, I can look 13 on camera. Asians often look younger than they are; I really think for where I am in my life mentally, I should be portraying doctors or lawyers on camera, not a freshman in high school.
"Asian role models, however, have emerged; I think it's great that Daniel Dae Kim has found (his mark) on 'Lost,' and our own Jason Scott Lee has achieved leading-man status and can make choices."
Reach Wayne Harada at firstname.lastname@example.org.