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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, October 3, 2000

Theater is thriving
after tough times

IT'S a different day at Diamond Head Theatre than it was when people were walking out on avante guard shows and the budget fell into deficit. The operating budget has been in the black for five years. The current musical show, "Carousel," was extended through Sunday. The Star-Bulletin's John Berger said of it: "Director Greg Zane and a uniformly talented cast turn a thin, depressing story into a marvelous show."

The thin, depressing story is of a Maine carnival barker and a naive mill worker who each make bad calls in falling for each other. On Broadway this was helped by a for-real motorized carousel. Here, human staff push the carousel around as the music booms. It is rather charming, not to mention money saving, and just one of the ways DHT keeps itself in the black.

Deena Dray, previously with First Hawaiian Bank and boss of the state's ASK 2000 help line, was invited to DHT when its budget fell into disarray. She brought in John Rampage as artistic director. He is a music teacher at Punahou and winner of 23 Po'okela awards.

They have become a strong team with the common objective of keeping community theater alive and well via DHT, whose origins trace back to 1915. It is the third-oldest community theater in America.

Dray and Rampage are building connections with Broadway by inviting actors, directors and set designers here occasionally. The male lead and director of "Carousel" are invitees.

They add glamour and talent to productions and give the volunteers who keep DHT alive the thrill of connecting with the "real Broadway." Top stars are beyond DHT's budget but up-and-comers welcome a small honorarium, making an extended Hawaii visit possible.

Dray and Rampage also wooed Donald Yap back as musical director to lead an enlarged theater orchestra. He directed his first show for what was then Honolulu Community Theatre in 1956, but had retired.

The pair also decided that perhaps one show a season should be nontraditional, but that the rest should be tried and true like "Carousel," rated by Time magazine as the best musical of the 20th century. They want audiences to go home happy and humming.

REMAINING offerings this year will include "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," the rock opera "Chess," "Steel Magnolias," about gossipy Southern ladies, and "Victor Victoria," about a soprano who has to pass herself off as male to get a performing role. Last season's "Cinderella" succeeded so far beyond expectations it will be repeated in 2001.

Getting students involved with theater is a major goal. One of DHT's local stars says he was well on the way to becoming a juvenile delinquent before the challenge of theater turned him on.

With the operating budget in the black, DHT's next challenge will be to build an endowment to protect against rainy days. That's common with most artistic groups, but DHT's right now is only $30,000 -- and who knows when the roof will need repair?

The theater site is state property but the building belongs to DHT, which made a considerable investment in renovating it. Formerly it was an Army theater for Fort Ruger.

DHT's board of directors, currently headed by Chris Kanazawa, has a substantial cross-section of community leaders. Its predecessors deserve credit for ordering the necessary changes to save DHT when it was on the ropes five years ago. Its monitoring role continues.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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