He’s a performing musical artist, but throughout his half-century career, Hawaii native Donald Yap has avoided blowing his own horn.
His chosen profession — arranging and conducting for musical theater — has kept him out of the limelight in orchestra pits from Honolulu, where he got his start in a community theater production of “The Pajama Game,” to Broadway, where he was tapped by the original conductor of “My Fair Lady,” to take up the baton “towards the end of the show’s very long, first run,” Yap said.
In addition to other New York shows, he also conducted throughout the U.S., including at Diamond Head Theatre, the Melody Top in Milwaukee, the Meadowbrook in Cedar Grove, N.J., and the Arie Crown in Chicago, where he led the orchestra in “Damn Yankees” with Gwen Verdon.
A graduate in piano from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., maestro Yap was a longtime director of the music department at Punahou School and mentored many local musicians, including John Kolivas, whose Honolulu Jazz Quartet will perform a tribute tonight at Blue Note Hawaii with regulars Tim Tsukiyama and Dan Del Negro, and guests DeShannon Higa, Noel Okimoto, Shari Lynn and Rocky Brown.
Although beloved among friends and colleagues for his big, generous personality and distinctive laugh, Yap is very modest, Kolivas said: “When he heard we were dedicating this night to him, he told me, ‘John, I’m so shy.’”
Tonight’s fans can expect to hear such Yap faves from the Broadway songbook as “On the Street Where You Live,” “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “Send in the Clowns” and “Corner of the Sky,” as well as, if it pleases him, the maestro’s hearty laugh.
Shows will be at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. at Blue Note Hawaii in the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. Use promo code “MAHALO15” for a kamaaina discount.