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Orphans, Glorious Orphans

Like the traditional Japanese concept of wabi-sabi – crudely, an appreciation for that which is imperfect, incomplete, austere – I enjoy watching rehearsals. They’re raw and unpolished. You get to see the “process” in the works: all the toil, line-memorizing, body-placement and finding of character. Today, I’m at the Hongwanji Mission School where Ohana Arts students, two-weeks shy of the opening night of Oliver!, are fervently tackling scenes involving orphans in their little street urchin-caps and over- and undersized patchwork jackets.

Burglar and overall evil guy Bill Sikes is effectively expressive and menacing as he roughs up Oliver, manhandles love interest Nancy and goes neck and neck with fellow criminal, pickpocket extraordinaire Fagin. The intensity crescendos with Christian Quinto as Sikes grabbing Nancy (Debra Potts) by the neck. Even though the rest of the 50-student cast has probably watched this scene many dozens of times, they go wide-eyed as Nancy struggles in his ferocious grip, and then the action abruptly stops and the actors look around just a touch disoriented. Someone has forgotten a line, and they all take a second to relax and laugh off the powerful moment.

Ohana Arts’

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Members of Ohana Arts’ cast of Oliver during a partial dress rehearsal

Expect to see plenty more of Farrington High’s 16-year-old Quinto and recent HBA grad Potts in the theater circuit, with their strong presence, voices and confidence in the spotlight. Quinto has a double role, also playing orphanage overseer Mr. Bumble.

“Playing the villain is fun,” he laughs. “It’s the complete opposite from me, but it’s challenging and I love challenging myself. I did Grease in February, in a Kaimuki High production, as part of the ensemble. This is my first time in a big lead role and I’m so thrilled!”

To think of him as a neophyte is surprising because he has that captivating quality: stage presence. An avid singer, Quinto needed a way to keep occupied for the summer and signed up with Ohana Arts’ summer workshop program to practice performing, singing, acting and dancing Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The morning classes help Quinto get into character for his afternoon rehearsals.

“It’s been a really fun ride because I’ve enhanced my acting skills,” he says. “I’m not comfortable with acting, and now I’m playing two roles, so that’s a big deal for me. When I first saw my name on the email – Christian Quinto as Bill Sikes –

I hope the audience feels that same happiness.”

This afternoon is the first partial dress rehearsal, sans makeup and set. Quinto smiles amiably at the conclusion of the interview and then, approaching the impromptu stage, he dons his Mr. Hyde sneer. Next, Hongwanji Mission School student Shemya Dang, who plays Fagin, drifts over in her overcoat streaming with scarves. Where Quinto’s bane is acting, Dang’s is learning her lines.

“It’s been fun making new friends and learning how to sing and act better, but learning my lines and ‘cheating out’ have been the hardest part of the production for me,” says Dang. “It’s hard because you always want to look at the person you’re talking to and not ‘open up.'”

After starring as the Wizard in Ohana Arts’ production of Wizard of Oz last year, Dang decided to try out for Fagin.

“The role was originally made for a 60-to 70-year-old man,” notes the 13-year-old girl, chuckling, “but I was chosen, so I guess they liked me enough. Fagin is very funny. He is selfish, but he does care about the people in his group. I hope people will find the comedy, not just in the lines I’m saying, but in his overall character.”

Ohana Arts promises spectacular sets, and a live orchestra will accompany the musical numbers which include Food, Glorious Food, Consider Yourself and Where is Love.

Oom-pah-pah … Oom-pah-pah … All together now!

the TICKET stub

When: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. July 20-22
Where: Mamiya Theatre (3142 Waialae Ave.)
Cost: $15
More Info: OhanaArts.org