KEKAHA — Something sweet is cooking inside the theater at St. Theresa’s church in Kekaha. Songs of chocolate and lollypops, tales of everlasting gobstoppers and Wonka bars fill the late afternoon air, as tiny feet and loud voices of neighborhood kids fill the room, showcasing their talents in the theater arts.
Kathie Waldman, a veteran of drama and community theater, effortlessly organizes the room full of actors, ages 5 to 16, into choreographed numbers and “tableau” scenes for a run of three shows July 13 to 15.
Adapting the screenplay to reflect Kaua‘i, Waldman cohesively ties together the Westside’s history of sugar cane with Dahl’s fantastical chocolate factory for a sweet, localized treat. A narrator played by Tyrelle Unciano sets the scene, explaining that the old sugar mill, which once spewed smoke and pollution, is suddenly exhaling the warm notes of melted chocolate throughout the Westside’s red valley. Dancing and singing Oompa Loompas can’t help but drag a smile out of this writer, as they belt out famous tunes such as “Lollypop, Lollypop,” “Candyman” and “Chocolate.”
The complete cast rehearses everyday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Rehearsals include fun and creative activities, games and, of course, blocking, staging and singing. Waldman rewards each successful week with “Friday Pizza Day,” during which the actors sign up for slices of pizza that are picked up from Shenanigans at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.
Some of the actors have helped in stagecraft, making paper-mache eggs out of balloons for the golden eggs integral to the plot. Theater improv games and stage directions are learned by everyone.
“Over 35 percent of the actors are fully scholarshipped in this production. I turned not one child away who wanted to be included in the program,” Waldman explained.
Before moving to Kekaha from the Santa Ynez Valley (near Santa Barbara, Calif.) in 2004, Waldman helped produce, direct and choreograph musicals for more than 30 years, including productions of “Wizard of Oz,” “Oliver,” “Annie,” “Peter Pan” and “Little Shop of Horrors.”
She has taught all forms of dance, singing and acting to a variety of ages. Many of her actors have gone on to work on stage and professionally in movies and television, and she still receives e-mails and calls from those who have received Emmys for their work.
Informing Westside Players, Waldman realized that the Westside keiki didn’t have any performing arts classes available.
“So, I started teaching classes last October at the Kekaha Neighborhood Center. Every class includes vocal, dance and drama warm-ups with new songs and dances added every week. I am so pleased to offer this opportunity to our local Westside community, and I intentionally kept the cost of tuition low and the number of scholarships available, high,” the director writes.
“These kids have a safe, fun and educational place to go everyday,” she said while counting in four-time for a dance routine. “They just learned the choreography today.”
Clearly adept at handling a classroom of energetic and talkative theatrical children, Waldman sets high standards in focus and concentration that will serve the students well in anything from math to sports. Working on reciting lines from memory, or “off-book,” the actors set up tableaus staged by Waldman.
“Just tell me the story; don’t think about the lines — you know the story,” she calls out to the young actors.
Behind the scenes, Waldman has had generous help from parents, Hawai‘i Children’s Theater, Digital Arts in Waimea, Aloha Dance Studio, Pacific Missile Range Facility and many more. Marty Waldman, Kathie’s husband, busily hammers on the emerging set, while also playing the sneaky part of Slugworth, Wonka’s industrial spy.
The cast will be performing two of their songs at the range’s July 4th celebration.
“It will be a good opportunity to get them ready for performing in front of a live audience,” Waldman said.
The extensive cast includes, Elijah Fox, Max Moore Adams, Cody Artaho, Isabella Fox, Emily Carlson, Leanne Castro, Riley Davalos, Sara Funtanilla, Maida Koetje, Rain Owen, Rachel Pleas, Summer Rain Quirantes, Keating Mariano Hardy, Anna Lissa Hartsell, Tawni Castro, Kaleiu’i Hosaka, Christina Bagain, Tyrelle Unciano, Bailee Taeza, Alexander Milan, Charles Fox, Judy Moyer, Wendy Fox, Leah Carr, Alyssa Pigao, Carter Koetje and Brittny Perez.
Many of the current cast members worked with Waldman in her April production of “The Time Machine,” performed at Storybook Theatre in Hanapepe.