Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, July 6, 2001

Stephanie Smart as the Queen and Laurence
Paxton as the King.

A King of a
different color

'Cinderella's' regal man is
hilariously over the top

By John Berger

A good actor is always looking for good ideas. Larry Paxton, who opens tonight as the King in Diamond Head Theatre's second bi-annual staging of "Cinderella," is no exception. Paxton stole the show the first time around when DHT staged "Cinderella" as the opening production of the 1999-2000 season.

Paxton played Cinderella's future father-in-law as a well-meaning but excitable fop, shading the characterization with hints of James Mason at his most urbane, and with subtle suggestions of Marlon Brando's unforgettable interpretation of Fletcher Christian in the 1962 remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty."

The results were hilarious. Paxton brought the house down on opening night with his first lines and expanded his performance perfectly in each subsequent scene. He was also convincing when he played straight and romantic in his scenes with Stefanie Smart who played the Queen.

Tara Melia Hunt as Cinderella.

Talking about it all the other day, Paxton revealed that he based his over-the-top characterization on a friend in London.

"He's a very nice man who talked like 'The King' all the time. When John Rampage started discussing the characters we decided that the Queen should be the stalwart one who always had her feet on the ground and I'd do the King as this extremely funny, lovable, very storybook character. I started thinking about it and that's how it all came together. (The characterization) just sort of took on a life of it's own and I just enjoy it tremendously."

Paxton and Smart are reprising their roles as DHT presents the second semi-annual staging of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical tonight through July 22.

"When they asked me to do it again I took maybe three seconds to say yes. It's a great part and I enjoy it because it's so opposite from what people would normally expect me to do. I'm associated a lot with very dramatic parts and it's such a change and it's so much fun," Paxton says. "We have a slightly different royal family (this year)."

Tara Melia Hunt is replacing Melissa Short as Cinderella and there's also a new Prince. Jason D. Wills has replaced Andrew Sakaguchi in that role."

Devon Guard is the Fairy Godmother in
Diamond Head Theatre's"Cinderella."

"A new Cinderella and a new Prince adds a whole new energy to everything. I have a lot of scenes with the Prince and Jason's obviously different (from Andrew) and so he reacts differently to my lines. He's a very good straight guy but he does it differently so I have to do it differently."

"What has been a real pleasure is how everybody has come together very quickly and with a lot of energy and fun and getting this whole thing (together). Stefanie is a terrific straight man, so to speak, and we can't get though the rehearsals without laughing. It's nice to be a show like that."

"Cinderella" is one of several projects Paxton is involved with. He says that playing the King will "will keep me sane" while he's rehearsing for DHT's next show, "Jekyll & Hyde," which will open the 2001-2002 season in mid-September. He is also preparing to do "Salome" with the opera next February, and looking forward to recording with Bebe Freitas.

"I've been given the rights to record Maury Yeston's "December Songs" as a fund-raiser for the theater program. He wrote 'Titanic,' 'Nine' and the 'Phantom' we just did (at DHT)," Paxton said. "The program has developed to a nice size and we feed back to the theaters in town and try to help send our students into the productions out in town. Now we're developing a B.A. in jazz."

"With that all happening it makes for a very full plate."

Full plate or not, Paxton loves being the King.

"There's just something really nice about doing a loveable character in a loveable fairy tale. I think I get (only) half a song but I enjoy doing this show. John's directing of the show takes these characters as wonderful storybook characters and plays the storybook angle as it should be and that entertains children and adults alike. I love the production and I love the kids' reaction to the King.

Putting it together

It's been a short career but a grand one thus far for Tara Melia Hunt. She starred opposite Moses William Goods III and Joe Abraham as the titular princess in "No One Will Marry A Princess With A Tree Growing Out of Her Head" at Kennedy Theatre last fall, starred in Army Community Theatre's latest production of "Brigadoon" this spring, and then got into comic acting when she played ditsy Norma Cassidy in Victor/Victoria at DHT.

"I had been a little bit type cast as the ingenue soprano (until "Victor/Victoria"), so I think this is going back (to it)," Hunt says of her starring role in Cinderella. The previous role was also something of a change-of-pace in being a comic supporting role rather than the lead.

Hunt received a Po'okela Award for her portrayal of Marsinah in ACT's 1998 production of "Kismet." She is up for two "Pokies" this year -- one for her lead role in "Brigadoon," the other for her performance in "Victor/Victoria." (Local theater fans will recall that Melissa Short, who starred as Cinderella when DHT presented the show in 1999, received a Po'okela nomination for her performance.)

The 1999 "Cinderella" received a pair of Po'okelas despite being somewhat overshadowed in the adjudication process by DHT's subsequent staging of "Phantom." Hunt, her leading man Jason D. Wells and Devon Guard as the Fairy Godmother are joining many veterans of the first show.

"Sometimes that's easier because (the veterans) already know what they're doing. It's not like everybody's doing something new. We only had a four-week rehearsal period but everything has already been blocked so it goes a lot quicker. I haven't had as much time to learn everything but a lot of the work has already been done. We were doing full run-throughs after only three weeks."

Hunt will soon be leaving Hawaii to continue her education at the Boston Conservatory of Music. In the meantime she's enjoying "Cinderella."

And as for the natural expectations and comparisons that will be made between this staging of "Cinderella" and the previous one?

"There's already expectations (with any show)," Hunt says. "They're different expectations this time around."


When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sunday, through July 22
Where: Diamond Head Theatre, 520 Makapuu Ave.
Tickets: $10 to $40
Call: 734-0274

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