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Putting on a show

John Berger
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The cast of "Nine," which is being shown at the Army Community Theatre at Fort Shafter.

We’ve all heard of those old movies: When money is needed for some worthy cause, Mickey and Judy decide to help out by doing a show in the neighbor’s barn, and the results look like a big-budget Hollywood variety show.

Brett Harwood, artistic director of Army Community Theatre, hopes a variation of that scenario will help him keep ACT going for another year. Rather than asking people to buy tickets for a themed event or to watch a prominent person receive an award, Harwood is presenting a "Broadway In Concert" production of the musical extravaganza "Nine." The show won’t have elaborate sets or costuming, but it will boast an accomplished cast and a live, on- stage orchestra.

Starring Larry Paxton as Italian film director Guido Contini, the show is based on the classic Italian film "8-1/2," film director Federico Felini’s semi-autobiographical account of his life and many loves. Guido is dreading his 40th birthday and looking back at his life as he tries to write the script for his next movie.


Where: Army Community Theatre, Fort Shafter

When: 7:30 p.m. today and tomorrow

Cost: $25 general admission

Info: 438-4480 or armytheatre.com


It is not the type of show ACT was known for in years past, but a good follow-up to Harwood’s precedent-setting spring production of "Three Penny Opera."

And, although Harwood is by his own account "a newcomer" to the community, he says the support he’s getting from other theater groups has been "wonderful."

"The big dance number in the show is staged by (Diamond Head Theatre Artistic Director) John Rampage, and for folks like John to take the time to help us (when they don’t need to) is wonderful," Harwood said during a lunchtime telephone call last week.

PAXTON starred as Guido in a DHT production of "Nine" in 1998, but Harwood’s "in concert" production approaches the show from an entirely different direction.

"The text is performed as written, and the musical numbers are performed — and some of them staged — but there are no costumes and no set," Harwood explained.

On top of that, Harwood is doing DHT’s production one better by backing the cast with a 26-piece orchestra.

"The orchestra is on stage and it’s very formal," he said. "It’s a chance to feature (the musicians) and these incredible orchestrations which aren’t performed in most community theater pits — because who can do it with a big orchestra?"

Another attraction certainly is the collection of divas who are appearing as Paxton’s co-stars: Cathy Foy, Mary Chesnut Hicks, Shari Lynn, Tricia Marciel, Shawna Masuda and Jo Pruden.

Other members of the cast — all of whom have had lead roles on other shows — include Renee Garcia Hartenstein, Megan Mount, Eden Lee Murray and Jana Souza.

PUBLIC fundraising is relatively new for ACT, but it’s a fact of life for most of Hawaii’s major community theater groups. Diamond Head Theatre, Kumu Kahua, Manoa Valley Theatre and The Actors Group all have annual fundraising programs of one kind or another; Kumu Kahua also encourages spontaneous gift-giving with a "kala-bash" bowl at the entrance to the theater.

ACT was underwritten by the Army in years past, and it was prohibited from most forms of supplemental fundraising, but in recent years its funding was cut and the rules changed.

Harwood says that for many years the salary of his predecessor, Vanita Rae Smith, didn’t have to be paid out of the money ACT brought in through ticket sales. However, that changed — at just about the time Harwood was brought over from Germany to work with her.

As ACT sought to cover costs, it became "a huge negative on that bottom line," Harwood said.

ACT almost shut down last December. Harwood was able to raise enough money to keep the doors open through the remainder of the season — presenting a competent production of "A Chorus Line" and then "Three Penny Opera" in the process — but says frankly that while Smith’s retirement was "a terrible blow to the program, it was kind of a blessing on the financial side."

Looking forward, Harwood describes things at the moment as very similar to that "Mickey and Judy put on a show in the barn" scenario.

"’Three Penny’ was really the first (ACT show) where we had no outside help whatsoever. … The cast was there, 25 at a time, building (the set), and it was really a nice bonding experience," Harwood said. "For ‘Nine’ it’s been very much the same thing, and we plan on continuing that. Some of the people who we had helping with sets for ‘Three Penny’ are singing in ‘Nine.’"

Despite the extra effort, Harwood says, there’s "something that’s really fabulous" about community theater being done by members of the community — even if it means cast, crew and family members are building sets and making costumes.


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