The spotlights illuminated the students of Musical Theater III as they sang “Seasons of Love” during the finale of “Rent: The School Edition” on April 26, 2019. With hardly a dry eye in Mamiya Theater, the audience applauded and cheered the outstanding cast. The popular Broadway musical, written by Jonathan Larson, was one of ‘Iolani Dramatic Players’ strongest performances and has left a mark on the future of arts at ‘Iolani.
Set in December 24, 1993 in an industrial loft on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the musical’s opening scene immediately captivated the audience with a high energy, edgy dance number, brilliantly choreographed by Mr. Andrew Sakaguchi and assisted by Kimiye Maeshiro ’19. Just as the lights came up and the music started playing, filmmaker Mark Cohen (Tate McAluney ’19) took his camera to film his roommate, Roger Davis (Connor Kennedy ’19) a recovering drug addict playing the guitar in the ramshackle loft. The audience is immediately pulled into the two-hour story of love, homelessness, minority-based characters, and the heart-wrenching reality of AIDS.
Roger, an HIV-positive musician, is a compassionate man who struggles with love, as his roommates Mark and HIV-infected Tom Collins (Tyrell Garcia ’19) support him through his journey of poverty and disease. All three actors flawlessly portray losing their loved ones to AIDS in the most realistic way. Roger’s HIV+ exotic dancer love interest Mimi (Hailey Akau ’20) breaks the hearts of viewers as her issues with AIDS and drug addiction worsen. Madison Kusumoto ’20 and Julia Kennedy ’20 give life to the characters Joanne Jefferson and Maureen Johnson, respectively. Maureen is a bisexual performance artist who has broken up with Mark to date Joanne, a lawyer. Many audience members fall in love with the beautiful-yet-unhealthy relationship between the two characters, especially when they sing “Take Me or Leave Me.” Sean Maskrey ’21 gives life to the drag queen Angel, who becomes the audience’s favorite character the moment she steps on stage in her stage costume and struts near her boyfriend Tom. She passes away due to complications of AIDS in the second act, leaving the rest of the characters in despair. Maskrey brilliantly embodies society’s view of drag queens, who are often idolized, but also discriminated against.
The cast is so believable with their characters that viewers forgot they were watching a group of teenagers, and instead were enraptured by the aesthetic dancing, melodious singing, and pleasant musical score, played by ‘Iolani Band Director Mr. Manny Dayao III ’97, Bailey Low ’20, Elvis Imamura ’22, Logan Okuda ’22 and Derek Higashi. Mrs. Kimmerie Jones did a fantastic job creating costumes that were a perfect mixture of sexy ’90s clothing and Victorian dress reform. Despite the few moments of technical difficulties and spotty acting, the musical was a success for many.
The most important part of this musical, however, is how it highlights the sensitive subjects of HIV and AIDS. Unfortunately, even in 2019, many instances of sexually transmitted diseases exist around the world. In particular, many LGBTQ+ members deal with violent (and even fatal) consequences for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Due to the general public’s lack of knowledge, HIV and AIDS are often associated with homosexual men, which can create a negative shield around an important health topic that is prevalent to many people. Although ‘Iolani School is, overall, an open-minded school, subjects like these can be uncomfortable for people to talk about, particularly when they are not well informed about them. Fortunately, the informative slideshow preceding the performance helped to educate the audience about HIV and AIDS. This information set the tone for the storytelling of these two illnesses, which helped break the stereotypes.
Although representation of the LGBTQ+ community is well done in the play, the heavier acts of romanticism between heterosexual couples, as compared to same-sex couples could have been better balanced. Yet, the play still dida great job in creating a stronger pathway for the future of LGBTQ+ at ‘Iolani School, along with raising the bar for future productions.
It is obvious that director Mr. Rob Duval and musical directors Mrs. Mary Chesnut Hicks and Mr. Andrew Sakaguchi prepared their Musical Theater III students well for their spring production.
“We wanted the students to have a meaningful show and experience, so it wasn’t just singing but also understanding the dramatic impact of AIDS on the artistic community in the 1990s,” said Mrs. Hicks.
Next up in the Musical Theater class performances are Disney’s “Mulan Jr.,” performed by Musical Theater I students on May 3-4, and “Mamma Mia!” performed by Musical Theater II students on May 17-18. Don’t miss them!