Johnson Enos, a playwright, actor and musician from Kaneohe, has been nurturing his production, "Honu by the Sea — the Musical," for the past four years. The project started as a modest experimental work in progress, a Disneyesque environmental fantasy involving a Waikiki surfer who encounters undersea denizens when he finds a magic star that enables him to spend one day beneath the sea.
It made its debut in 2012 at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room as a one-act trial balloon, directed by Ronald E. Bright. "Honu" incorporated an environmental theme and introduced Enos’ own brand of "Guardians of the Sea" — a collection of ocean figures such as Malia the honu (sea turtle), Shaka the crab, Nalu the toothless tiger shark, Kapper the sea horse, Surfy the Hawaiian monk seal, a trio of opihi and a villain named Slicker.
The show played two additional summers at the Pink Palace and since has toured the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and several aquariums in a tour supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The production has now notably been staged in Seattle, Sydney and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Beginning Wednesday, audiences will get to see it in its full glory, with professional costuming and staging suitable for the Hawaii Theatre stage.
"I’m excited to be in the Hawaii Theatre as the show evolves," said Enos. He has expanded his one-act musical into a full-fledged two-act spectacle, complete with a 20-tune score, for weekend audiences starting Sept. 12.
"If you don’t have two acts, it’s not a play," said Enos of the progression and expansion — the result of four years of tweaking.
"Honu" — the Hawaiian word for sea turtle — will introduce fantasy sea creatures pondering the pollution of the ocean by humans and will also consider what can be done about it, as youthful Kainoa goes undersea for a day.
Three decades ago Enos was a pupil at Castle High School, where he participated in shows under the mentorship of respected Honolulu director Bright. Bright, who died July 7, had encouraged Enos to develop and launch "Honu," polishing it from trial runs aimed at kiddie crowds.
"To watch my teacher and my friend help me put my art up there — I cherish those moments," Enos said.
A thread in the Bright tradition also runs through "Honu" via its performers.
Such is the case with Jacquelyn Holland-Wright (born Debbie Parker; Holland-Wright is her stage name), portraying a mother turtle. "I started with Mr. Bright at 7 years old in ‘The Sound of Music’ at Benjamin Parker," she recalled.
In Las Vegas, folks know Holland-Wright as the mama in "Mamma Mia" or her current role in "Menopause the Musical."
"Mr. B is the entire reason I am the performer I am today, and he is responsible for my entire acting career," she said. "He instilled in me the value system I continue to keep in place … believe in myself and trust myself. He made me fall completely in love with what I do for a living."
Mama Honu is a good fit for Holland-Wright and marks her return to the Hawaii she adores.
"My love of turtles, home, the ocean, my son, the children, the arts, our aina — these are all the things that pull my heartstrings the heaviest," she said.
|HONU BY THE SEA — THE MUSICAL’
Where: Hawaii Theatre
When: School matinees (one-act), Sept. 9-18; public performances (two-act), 2 and 7 p.m. Sept. 12, 19; 2 p.m. Sept. 13, 20
Cost: $5-$10; family pass available from $55
Info: 528-0506, www.hawaiitheatre.com
Also fresh to the cast: Guy Merola, a tenor who has been featured in hit Broadway musicals at Diamond Head Theatre and Manoa Valley Theatre. Merola will enact the villainous Slicker, who threatens the sea creatures and the environment, in the two-act version of the production.
"I’ve never really played a villain before, but bad guys always have the fun moments," Merola said. "I have a great costume, which makes me feel like a superhero."
Costumes were designed by Cynthia Nordstrom and built by John Kristiansen of New York, a company that outfits Broadway shows. Because Slicker’s suit requires specific measurements for a neck adornment, Enos flew Merola to New York for a couple of days of meticulous fittings with the costumers.
It’s a splashy black number, "with a huge black cape and dark blue sparkly things inside, with black gloves and boots — and pretty impressive, (costing) $10,000. It’s crazy," said Merola.
Shawna Masuda was an understudy for a Hawaiian monk seal character now named Surfy and recorded a tune for the show’s prototype demo soundtrack. In this outing she will portray Malia the honu, the title character.
"She wants to be as good as she can be, and while she’s still a little naive, she shows some mature points," said Masuda in assessing Malia. Masuda thinks the turtle is "probably in her teens … very young."
"Honu" will mean a hectic few weeks for the seasoned singer-actress, who has starred in "Miss Saigon" and "Les Miserables" on island stages, the latter with director Bright at Paliku Theatre.
"Working with Mr. B was great, and I really, really, really loved it," she said. "And it’s interesting to note how Johnson takes on a nurturing side, just like Mr. B; he takes amazing care of his cast."
For Enos the two-act version is the result of refining, reinforcing and reworking elements such as flow, tempo and songs, based on audience feedback. "Kids give me the gist of their feelings — and inspiration," he said. "They’re so honest; you know if they like what they see, when they poke each other with joy. Creating something about conservation (issues) is not easy."
"Honu," he said, is the ultimate tribute to Mr. B. "To me he was the world’s greatest director, whose message was to believe in yourself. I don’t know anyone who was more gracious and caring and willing to help," he said.
His showbiz credits include Maui shows with Tihati Productions; recording production gigs with such artists as Bette Midler, Kristin Chenoweth and Keali’i Reichel; and considerable work with Disney, including the "Lilo and Stitch II" soundtrack, the Disney Tokyo Parade and work at the Aulani resort and spa.
The current show uses recorded tracks for vocals, but Enos is hoping to someday add a full orchestra, as with Broadway’s live theater. "We’ve done aquarium shows, and I know this one needs to be in a theater, even in New York," he said. "It’s an educational show, sure, but entertaining."
Enos also is considering treks to the Smithsonian again, and even Japan. A two-day production is slated for November in Monaco.