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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, November 4, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
In a scene from the Lee Cataluna play "Ulu:, The Musical,"
Vincent Vanderford is Kayden and Amy Tamaribuchi is Lylas.

A girl, a fish,
and a musical

Lee Cataluna puts a script to
melody and hooks her first musical

By Burl Burlingame


ALL-A-SUDDEN, Lee Cataluna get one more play. Girl need take break! . "Ulua: The Musical" is, yes, a musical, and it's a Kumu Kahua production, but not at Kumu Kahua. Because Cataluna's previous comedies have been such successes -- "Da Mayah" held office longer than any other play in Kumu's history -- the theater group is holding this one at McKinley High School's restored auditorium.

"It's a nice theater now, and we're real happy to be in there," said director R. Kevin Doyle. Kumu Kahua will give the school technical help on a production next year.

Cataluna, who's nailing down a feature film production in Los Angeles, has been involved long-distance with the production. "Lots of cassettes, lots of email, lots of phone calls," she laughed. "I was there for the auditions and first read-through, but once you've written the thing it's time to give it up. A playwright shouldn't be hovering around and getting in the way."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Kayden tells Lylas, Charmaine (Lena Kaneshiro) and
Clyson (Keith Kashiwada) about the one that got away.

Cataluna had the idea for the piece and discussed it with Kumu Kahua. "It just fastballed from there," she marveled. "It came to me as a story that happened to have music attached to it, so the concept was connected. It's that -- there was a story I wanted to tell, and a musical was a good way to do it.

"I was sitting around once with my friend's brother, and after a couple of beers he pulled out a guitar and played songs about fishing. I thought it was hysterical!"

The finished script -- or is it a libretto? -- had dialogue and lyrics but no music. "Just the lyrics alone were so funny," said Doyle.

"I tried to get a rhythm going in the cadence of the words, but that's all I had in mind for the music," said Cataluna.

Kumu Kahua drafted Sean T.C. O'Malley to write the music, and Doyle describes the feel as "very local, almost Jawaiian -- ukulele, bass and guitar."

"I'm amazed at what Sean's done with the melodies," said Cataluna. "The most they did was change the standard English phrases a little bit to sound more local."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Vincent Vanderford as Kayden tries to woo Lylas
played by Amy Tamaribuchi after making a big catch.

"You have to approach the music with the single thought -- is it going to help tell the story, or get in the way?" said Doyle. "Each song moves people differently, that's their function. All together, they work coherently, and yet each one is memorable by itself. We're very happy with the music."

They even have a single out. The cast retired to a studio and cut "Opihi Girl," about a girlfriend who clings too much. Cataluna was delighted. "That was the most-fun song to write."

"What's interesting is that the play without the music, just the dialogue, is a much different play than with the songs," said Doyle. "That's how critical the music is. It's not just tacked on."

And there's dancing too, with choreography by Pam Sandridge. "Well, you know the law in theater -- if the emotion is too big for words, you sing, and if the emotion is too big for singing, you dance!" said Doyle.

The band is led by Scott Sproat on guitar. "Scott auditioned for the show and came in and played 'Mustang Sally' and blew us away, but there wasn't a part for someone playing 'Mustang Sally,'" said Doyle. "So we offered him the band instead."

The plot? Oh, that old thing. We're talking about Kayden Asiu's off-on relationship with girlfriend Lylas and how he hooks up with fishing fanatics Clyson and Butchie, escaping the "Opihi Girl" by running off to Maui.

"I'm kinda proud of myself," said Cataluna, whose dream assignment would be to write a Jackie Chan movie based in Hawaii. "I'd never written a musical before, but I didn't let that stop me. Just go, no be shy, do 'em!"

Now showing

Bullet What: "Ulua: The Musical"
Bullet When: 7:30 p.m. (2 p.m. Sundays), Nov. 4 through Dec. 4.
Bullet Where: McKinley High School Auditorium
Bullet Cost: On Thursdays, $12 ($10 seniors and unemployed; $5 students), on Friday, Saturday and Sunday $15 ($12 seniors and unemployed; $10 students).
Bullet Call: 536-4441

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