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Entertainment // Art & Stage
Rasa Fournier

Adieu, President Jeff Portnoy

After dedicating many years to serving as president of the board of directors of Manoa Valley Theatre, attorney Jeffrey Portnoy is retiring … for the second time.

“Our bylaws said the president shall serve no more than two two-year terms,” says Portnoy. “After serving (a first term of) 16 or 17 years, there was some thought to see if there were a couple of other people who would want to serve as president, and there were three in the interim between my first and second term.”

When Portnoy was voted in for a second term about seven years ago, he gladly stepped up to the position.

Portnoy – full disclosure, he does legal work for MidWeek and the Star-Advertiser, among other media clients – says he’s always had the theater bug, having performed quite a bit in high school:

“I was voted best actor in my class of many hundreds in East Meadow, N.Y.,” he says. “I tried to get into Northwestern School of Speech – one of the top acting schools in the country back then. I went to auditions in New York, did my 20-minute Shakespeare monologue. Guess I wasn’t as good an actor as I and others thought, because I didn’t get accepted. Now my acting is done in court for lots better pay!”

These many years later, when he heard about the little nonprofit theater in Manoa that needed a board, he readily signed on and was quickly elected president. He even managed to get on the stage.

“I was on stage just once,” he says, “in Inherit the Wind as a hot dog vendor and Eskimo Pie salesman. I got so hungry that I would eat the props, so they decided it would be a good idea if I didn’t go back on stage.”

Tongue-in-cheek aside, as much as Portnoy has relished his work with MVT, he has seen the board through some rough spots. He recalls a serious financial crisis in the mid-’80s that necessitated sending a letter to subscribers and patrons from the board and producing director Dwight Martin, stating that the theater would have to close its doors if enough funds weren’t raised.

“That was just a few weeks before the Hawaii premiere of Little Shop of Horrors,” notes Portnoy. “That became one of the highest-grossing plays we’ve ever done.”

Another major obstacle presented itself in the form of a frighteningly dilapidated facility.

“We were in this old broken-down wooden church in Manoa, which leaked, and patrons would come in with umbrellas,” he recalls, “and they’d keep the umbrellas open in the theater, because the rain came in from the roof, and then you’d hear crackling in the back where water would hit the electrical wiring.”

A major fundraising campaign brought in $650,000 to erect the current facility.

“Working in the arts, it’s a constant struggle to stay afloat,” says Portnoy. “Thanks to certain individuals and the support of subscribers and patrons, and the fact that we’ve had an incredibly dedicated staff, including having Dwight all these years, here we are going into our 45th season.

“We’ve become a pretty sophisticated and recognized nonprofit arts board,” he adds. “We have more than 35 members. I’ve chaired about 400 meetings, and we’ve never once had a quarrel, which is pretty unbelievable for any organization, let alone an arts organization.”

However, as Portnoy tells it, “I’m not going to get any younger, and the organization is trying to get younger,” so though he will remain on the board, Port-noy is stepping down, and current vice president Mike Rosenberg will step in as the transitional president.

But not before Portnoy gets a theatrical sendoff complete with a lively roast July 15 (988-6131, manoavalleytheatre.com).

“Apparently there are a few people who are chomping to get up there and rip me apart,” he says with a chuckle. “I know it’ll be a great night. When I ‘retired’ the first time, they (gave me a mock) trial. It was phenomenal. Peter Carlisle played the prosecutor. Senior federal judge Martin Pence was the bailiff. It was a wonderful night and the theater raised some money. That’s the important thing – to raise some money for the theater. I’m happy to be the butt of it.”

As for Manoa Valley Theatre’s upcoming production, Godspell (June 27-July 14): “Vocally, it is extraordinary,” says Portnoy. “People will recognize many of the really talented actors in town who are in the cast. They are fantastic!”

ALSO SHOWING
Concert at the Aquarium

Several bursts of rain ‘blessings’ didn’t stop folks on mats and lawn chairs from enjoying a magical evening of kanikapila June 13 at the first of a five-concert series, Ke Kani O Ke Kai, at Waikiki Aquarium. The absorbing atmosphere of ocean waves, breezes, swaying palms, food, drink and stunning music made for that special moment where you breathe it all in deeply and go ‘Wow, this is Hawaii.’

John Cruz and Nathan Aweau headlined the June 13 concert. Upcoming performances by a lineup of Hawaii’s top musicians will take place June 27, July 11 and 25, and Aug. 8 (waquarium.org)

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