Since age 19, Kristian Lei’s powerhouse vocals have dazzled audiences.
Her first gig as lead character Kim in Cameron Mackintosh Productions’ Miss Saigon in Germany quickly led to roles in productions in Hawaii, throughout the Mainland and abroad.
Ten years ago, Lei also chose to pursue another passion.
Inspired by younger brother Joshua, who has cerebral palsy, Lei, who appeared on MidWeek‘s Aug. 18, 2008, cover, established Honolulu Broadway Babies. The nonprofit organization seeks to inspire those who are developmentally challenged to attain confidence and skills, while also raising awareness and support for educational programs that cater to them.
“I just really wanted to help the community,” she says.
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Honolulu Broadway Babies will present a special show, “AWOL: Art Without Limits.”
“We decided to go outside of the box of Broadway musicals,” explains Lei. The show, set to take the stage Aug. 21-23, will feature selections from popular Broadway plays. In line with the evening’s theme, there also will be performances of contemporary songs by artists such as Beyonce and John Legend.
This year, Honolulu Broadway Babies has teamed up with Best Buddies Hawaii, which partners non-disabled children in middle and high school with disabled peers. Together, they participate in activities in and out of the classroom.
“When I was that age, you know, there weren’t many of these kinds of programs that integrated the two together to have friendships,” says Lei. “The understanding was a little different. Sometimes, my brother would get teased, and I knew they didn’t understand, but this program actually educates everybody and allows them to interact.”
Performers volunteering their time for the effort include headliners from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Rent, Wicked and more. Local celebrities lending their talent to the evening include Mihana Aluli Souza, Mahi Kekumu, Kip Wilborn and Shawn Anthony Thomsen and Lei herself. They will be joined by members of Better Buddies Hawaii and Lei’s brother. The group has been rehearsing since June 30, and Lei says everyone involved has enjoyed it.
“They teach us to be very grateful for what we have,” she says.
Despite her busy schedule, Lei continues to focus on her musical career. Her second album, On A Personal Note, was released last year.
Fans of Lei who want to see her on the stage can also rest assured that she has plans to return to it, just not quite yet.
“I’m enjoying being home in the Islands and being a new mom,” she says.
AWOL: Art Without Limits is slated for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 21-22 and 7 p.m. Aug. 23 at The Leeward Theatre. Tickets cost $40-$60 and may be purchased by calling 979-6679.