LIHUE — Feet and hands, moving and shaking. And don’t forget the smiles.
That’s how it goes during practice for “Hitops!”
“It’s really fun so far, it’s awesome,” said Brynn White, a student at Hanalei Elementary School. “I think it’s a really cool message because it’s talking about how God is always there for you.”
“It’s really great, I like it so far,” said Alana Ramos, a Kauai High School student. “First of all, it’s something new I could try so I’m not always home doing my work.”
The two are members of Lihue United Church youth group, which is preparing for the new production of the 1980’s musical, directed by Kauai Community College student Logan Baptiste.
Hitops was created in the 1980s as a Christian Broadway musical by Ernie and Debbie Rettino and C. Barry Robertson. It tells the story of a high school student named Norman, played by J.J. Juntila, who is constantly bullied by his classmates and tempted by the Devil.
“I think it’s going to inspire a lot of people ‘cause it’s about people bullying and some people might be in their shoes,” Juntila said. “It’s a lot of work but it’s going to pay off.”
As Satan tempts the students throughout the play, three novice angels named Lily, Finely and Grace perform research in the “heavenly archives” on the problems the teens are facing and are sent to Earth by the archangel Gabriel to help the students. Having been transformed into high school students, the angels infiltrate the school to observe the students and offer them wisdom to fight the Devil’s temptations.
The production depicts some difficult topics for students such as suicide, cheating, drug abuse and self-identity and is being overseen and produced by Kahu Rennie Mau, youth coordinator for the Kauai Association United Church of Christ.
“It was just helping youth deal with some of the issues in their lives in a fun way,” Mau said. “It really addresses a lot of serious issues that kids face but it does it in a very humorous and comical way, not to make fun of it.”
Baptiste said directing the play is both challenging and rewarding.
“It’s a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be but it was something that I always wanted to try out from an artist’s point of view,” he said.
Although this is Baptiste’s first time directing a play, he has been on stage in other productions. He played one of the three pigs in “Shrek the Musical” and the character Lowry in David Penhallow Scott’s production of “Emma’s Last Dance.”
“I thought for me it was a really good opportunity,” Baptiste said. “It’s something that I always thought would be fun to do. I’m used to actually just being on the stage as the actor and the whole time I was on stage, I always thought it would be really interesting trying to be a director.”
Baptiste practices with the youth from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday at the Lihue United Church. The youth also work with dance instructor Brianna Isono to master the dance moves of Hitops.
“I’m actually used to just teaching hip hop not like jazz or old school music,” Isono said. “I watched it on Youtube, the first play they made, and actually, I like it.”
Others found the production difficult but are having fun, including Kapaa Middle School student Michael Anderson, who plays Satan.
“I’m pretty excited, especially because my part is Lucifer,” Anderson said. “It really helps put the play together and especially because it sets the conflict of the situation.”
Kapaa Middle School student Imani Shinn plays a girl tricked by the Devil.
“I think it’s going to be very hard for me because the character is very sassy and mean and I’m not,” Shinn said “It’s really dramatic and important to teenagers’ lives because a lot of teenagers go through this, too. It gives the audience a really good message about that.”
The production is scheduled April 30 to May 3 in churches in Kapaa and Hanapepe. The youth group is looking for more middle and high school students for other roles.
“They’ve never done something like this before. For youth coming from other churches, it’s a challenge as well,” Mau said “There is a learning curve and a commitment challenge the youth and their parents must rise up to in our weekly gatherings.”