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Entertainer inspired isle theater 1 artist at a time


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POSTED: Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jim Hutchison—Broadway and television entertainer, movie actor, stage director, choreographer and teacher—died Thursday at the Queen's Medical Center. He was 75.

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Hutchison's contributions to the Hawaii arts and entertainment community were so far-reaching that John Rampage, artistic director of Diamond Head Theatre, spoke for many in describing his death as the end of an era.

"He was such a major factor in theater here for 35 years, and I think he affected so many people in so many ways as a performer, as a director, as a choreographer (and) as a teacher, that I don't think there is anybody who participated in theater in all those years who doesn't owe some debt of gratitude to Jim Hutchison."

Rampage added that it was Hutchison, artistic director in the days when DHT was still known as Honolulu Community Theatre, who gave him his first opportunity to direct and choreograph there "almost 20 years ago."

"I was very lucky. I (also) had the chance to actually perform with Hutch, in "My One and Only" (at DHT). Let me tell you, I was intimidated! But I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity. He was so well known as a director and choreographer and teacher, but he was also an incredible performer."

Joyce Maltby, director of theater at Hawaii Pacific University, recalled her friend of four decades as "a good friend," who hired her several times to direct shows at DHT, and who also brought "a wonderful down-to-earth humanness" to the role of the Stage Manager in HPU's production of "Our Town" in 1996.

"I was thrilled that he wanted to do that (character), and it fit him so well. It was a wonderful experience to have the chance to direct Jim after having him for a friend for so many years."

Dwight Martin, producing director of Manoa Valley Theatre, where Hutchison directed two of his last productions, "Musical of Musicals: The Musical!" in 2007 and "Always ... Patsy Cline" last fall, recalled Hutch as being "vested in helping develop and sustain the performing arts here in Hawaii."

"He was a delight to work with. He was very nurturing of everybody and interested not only in the success of the project he was working on, but (also) in the success of everyone who was involved with it and their continued development."

Born in England, Ark., Hutchison demonstrated his potential as a singer, dancer and pianist in local talent contests. He then moved to New York where he appeared on Broadway in the musicals "Kean," "Happy Hunting," "The Ziegfeld Follies" and the "The Pajama Game," in which he performed the show-stopping "Steam Heat" number with Carol Haney and Peter Gennaro.

Hutchison's film credits included working opposite Barbra Streisand as one of the singing and dancing waiters in "Hello Dolly." He also had extensive credits as a singer and choreographer on network television. After moving to Hawaii he appeared on "Hawaii Five-0," "Magnum, P.I." and "Jake and the Fatman," and served many years as Hawaii director of the Screen Actors Guild.

In addition to being artistic director of Honolulu Community Theatre/Diamond Head Theatre for 18 years, Hutchison headed the Honolulu City Ballet (now Ballet Hawaii) and recently served as a Ballet Hawaii board member. His local credits as an actor, director or choreographer also included shows at Army Community Theatre and for the Honolulu Symphony.

Hutchison is survived by ex-wife Wisa D'Orso and son Kurt Adam, both of Waimanalo, and daughter Tita Jo of North Hollywood, Calif.

Maltby and the cast of her current HPU production, "The Glass Menagerie," have dedicated tomorrow's performance to his memory. Plans for a larger "celebration of life" are pending.