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Friday, October 25, 2002


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HONOLULU THEATRE FOR YOUTH
Originally based on the story of a Buddhist monk seeking enlightenment, "The Monkey King" becomes the leader of all the other monkeys before being banished after disobeying his Master. He redeems himself by battling an ogre.




‘Monkey King’ is great
for whole family



Review by John Berger
jberger@starbulletin.com

Productions aiming to make children's theater "accessible" often suggest that a dumbing down of material is necessary. Rarely does this process add anything positive to the works, but Honolulu Theatre for Youth's excellent production of Elizabeth Wong's "Amazing Adventures of the Marvelous Monkey King" is a delightful exception.

By the time the titular monkey hero travels through time and lands in contemporary Hawaii for a brief lesson in semimodern "street dancing," he's already had so many interesting adventures in ancient China -- and the cast has distinguished itself with such superb performances -- that a short nod to "accessibility" does no harm. In fact, it adds a nice touch to the story.

And, even though "Push It" is so "old skool," it represents prehistoric material for hip-hop-happy intermediate school kids these days, the sight of a monkey with no natural rhythm learning how to get his groove on, and then using the old Salt-N-Pepa hit as a sonic weapon in battle against a dragon and an ogre, is great visual theater.

It turns out that the dragon and the ogre find "Push It" as raucous and overpowering as the monkey did.

Credit HTY artistic director Mark Lutwak and director Harry Wong III with excellent work in putting this show together. Colorful costumes and comical situations make "Amazing Adventures ..." a great entry-level look at traditional Chinese theater while offering several sugar-coated lessons about the importance of patience and good manners and the importance of forgiveness.

Kids will quickly realize that several of the Monkey King's mishaps and setbacks are the result of his own misbehavior, and that even when you try to behave, it can be difficult to do the right thing. In short, they'll quickly recognize a kindred spirit.

The kids -- and young at heart -- will therefore applaud the primate's occasional successes as he attempts to live up to the high standards set by an Immortal Guru at the behest of the benevolent goddess Kuan Yin.

Jonathan Clarke Sypert is instantly engaging as the acrobatic, perpetually curious, perpetually restless Monkey King. Sypert has the athleticism necessary to be convincing as an agile monkey/martial arts master (acrobatics and martial arts stances are used to represent the monkey's supernatural abilities and fighting prowess); Sypert also has the acting skills it takes to convey emotion through thick Chinese-style "monkey makeup." The Monkey King is forced to make difficult decisions in his tricky trek toward enlightenment, and Sypert makes each quandary ring true.

Another important facet of the role is the ability to dance, badly. Sypert pulls off these challenging moves perfectly as well.

The rest of the cast is also excellent. Kelly Williams co-stars as the benevolent and nurturing Kuan Yin, and also appears briefly as one of the snobbish fairy acolytes who belittle the monkey's attempt to seek knowledge. Monica Cho and Hermen Tesoro Jr., split a number of great roles and fabulous costumes between them in portraying the secondary monkeys and an assortment of supernatural characters (Cho plays the long-suffering Immortal Guru, the slighted Dragon King, and the angry Jade Emperor; Tesoro turns up as a fairy acolyte, the dreaded monkey-eating One-Horned Ogre, hapless General Fishbelly and the modern local kid).

Kathe James' gorgeous costumes, Kelly Berry's attractive set and recorded music by the Bao Gongs give the show an appropriate ambiance.

Wong keeps the action moving smoothly but always allows the audience time to absorb the message and appreciate the subtleties of the actors' work.

It's still a shame that HTY chooses to opt out of Po'okela Awards adjudication. Otherwise, Wong, James, Sypert and the rest of the cast would certainly be strong contenders in their respective categories.

Anyone looking for outstanding family entertainment this weekend should treat the kids to HTY's "Amazing Adventures of the Marvelous Monkey King."


"Amazing Adventures of the Marvelous Monkey King":

Presented by Honolulu Theatre for Youth, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter. Tickets are $12 general and $6 for 18 and under and 61 and older. Call 839-9885. The production moves to the Windward Community College's Paliku Theatre for performances at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 and 9.




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