DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii Education of the ARTS, a Christian-based theater group, will stage "Seussical the Musical" July 17-18 at Hawaii Theatre. Shown are the main characters: Ku'ulei Kekoa, left, as Baby Kangaroo; Kamanukea Kekoa as Sour Kangaroo; Kaena Kekoa as Mayzie; Matthew Mun as the Cat in the Hat; Jordan Reed as Jojo; Tiare Sadarananda who plays Gertrude McFuzz; and Benji Ah Sing as Horton.
An isle production mixing Dr. Seuss characters with moral values opens
Fifty-three Honolulu youngsters are learning song and dance numbers and how to entertain, but in "Seussical the Musical" they're also learning how to live life.
Hawaii Education of the ARTS, the Christian-based theater group led by founder Pam DeBoard, is staging the musical July 17-18 at the Hawaii Theatre.
A former pianist and choral director with the Honolulu Boy Choir for six years, DeBoard began HEARTS in 2003 as an outreach program of the Kailua Church of the Nazarene, but it is now an independent nonprofit organization.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
HEARTS founder Pam DeBoard and producer Haunani Awai have some fun as they pose for a picture. The group's performing arts classes are taught by Christian artists in college.
HEARTS is a family affair. Many in the cast, ages 7 to 15, are siblings, and more than half are returnees, said DeBoard: "We pride ourselves on being an ohana."
Her college-age daughters, Rachel and Megan DeBoard, are director and choreographer, respectively. Pam's brother Mike Litsey, chaplain of the Ewa Beach Church of the Nazarene, leads the 15-minute Bible study that begins every rehearsal at a Kaneohe site. Litsey, a former children's pastor, said kids do not have to be Christians to join the program, but no parent has complained about the Bible lessons, he said.
"Seussical" stars a conglomeration of the book characters of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) that began in 1957 with his children's classic "The Cat in the Hat." The mischievous Cat pops up as the narrator and serves as devil's advocate in a plot that centers around Horton, the kindly elephant who protects the tiny people of Whoville.
In all of HEARTS' musicals, there is an underlying moral message. In "Seussical," Horton sums it up: "A person's a person, no matter how small." Litsey tells the children it means, "No matter how small or what color we are, or how we sing, or how well we perform, God loves us."
Matt Mun, who plays the Cat, said he was "kinda shy" when he joined the program four years ago but has since made many friends.
"I've learned that if I just be myself, people will be friends with me," Mun said. "I don't have to try to be what they want me to be."
In his summers with HEARTS, Mun has seen that it means nothing "if you become successful in life but don't know how to treat other people. Personally, I want to treat other people like I'd like to be treated," said Mun.
Tehani Keith, 11, said, "We not only learn how to sing, but also trust, faithfulness, how to have friendships with everyone and how to learn acceptance. I would give up every summer and every break I have to do these musicals."
Director Rachel DeBoard said: "No one can be an island in a production. We are emphasizing teamwork and encouraging their fellow actors even if someone gets a lead role they wanted really bad. But we make everyone feel like they have a special place in the theater.
"We offer a loving, healthy environment, where nobody laughs at each other. It's a safe place ... and at the end of the summer, they have something to show, something that they can be really proud of," she added.
"Aunty Pam," as the kids call Pam DeBoard, plays the piano for rehearsals, overseeing the entire room from the stage. She knows each of the 50 wriggling bodies by name, keeps order, calls out directions and tutors them through a few difficult bars.
"This is very hard music to sing, and pretty complex staging (choreography). ... I've learned that if you set the standards high, the students will achieve them," she said. "There have been such wonderful music and theatrical moments that sometimes I'm just in shock."
Tickets are available at the theater box office at 528-0506.