Magical 'Nightingale' could cause clamor


POSTED: Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Turnabout is in play this month with the opening of Honolulu Theatre for Youth's production of “;Nightingale.”;

The turnabout involves “;Heartbeat Hawaii,”; a musical revue written and produced in China, that caught hell when it opened six weeks ago in Waikiki.

A segment that the producers said wasn't intended to be traditional hula aroused the ire of guardians of Hawaiian culture who believed it might be mistaken for hula by tourists who don't recognize the difference. The number was cut from the show.

With “;Nightingale,”; HTY and Cheryl Flaharty of the Iona Contemporary Dance Theatre are staging a loose adaptation of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen's fanciful tale of a Chinese emperor and a nightingale.

HTY artistic director Eric Johnson writes in the playbill that while the show “;draws on numerous Asian forms and materials,”; it is not intended to be “;historical,”; but rather a “;magical landscape of the imagination.”;

Will guardians of Chinese culture now take issue with HTY's portrayal of China and its culture? Or will they allow “;Nightingale”; the freedom to entertain audiences with its imaginative costumes, eye-catching choreographed movement and talented cast?

In the production, the Emperor is an insatiable collector of all things.





        » Place: Tenney Theatre, St. Andrew's Cathedral

» When: 4:30 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 3


» Cost: $16 general, $8 for children, college students with ID and those 60 and older


» Call: 839-9885


» On the Net: htyweb.org


The people of China do their best, but no matter how long they work or how much they produce, he wants more.

The gods punish him twice, first by destroying all of his prized gardens, leaving him only the best flower, then by destroying his vast collection of clothes except for his most spectacular garment.

One of the gods then takes the form of a nightingale with the intention of teaching the Son of Heaven that listening to “;the song in your heart”; can be more satisfying than an excess of material possessions.

The Emperor responds by capturing the bird, wrapping chains around it and forcing it to wear a beautiful but obviously inappropriate garment, making it impossible for the nightingale to sing.

It takes a close encounter with Death to teach the Emperor the error of his ways.

Story aside, the costumes and choreography are marvelous. Almost all the costumes incorporate at least one musical instrument — sometimes played by the character wearing them, sometimes by others. Other instruments are built into H. Bart McGeehon's cleverly designed set.

HTY veteran Junior Tesoro stands out as the Emperor's loyal but much put-upon servant.

Tesoro also leads the lengthy audience participation segments in which “;the people of China”; become flowers for the Emperor or perform as an improvisational orchestra.

The actor known as Q, last seen in the title role of the Hawaii Shakespeare Production of “;Pericles,”; displays his versatility here with strong ensemble work as unidentified gods and courtiers; his ensemble partner, Maile Holck, steps forward via a quick costume change to portray the nightingale.

Kimo Kaona plays the Emperor as a well-intentioned but childlike autocrat; Kaona is enough smaller than Q to make the Emperor's imaginatively staged encounter with Death especially effective visually (Moses Goods will play the Emperor for the remaining public performances).