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To commemorate the centennial milestone of English-language Kabuki productions at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, master musicians from Japan are mentoring students for the premiere of The Maiden Benten and the Bandits of the White Waves this April at Kennedy Theatre.

Student playing shamisen in front of another student
Student Arlo Chiaki Rowe (right) attends rehearsal

Enriching the performance will be a live music ensemble, spotlighting authentic Japanese singing and instruments such as the three-string shamisen, taiko drums and traditional flutes.

On stage, student actors will bring to life the Japanese theatre art form known for its ornately decorated costumes and eye-catching makeup.

A skilled ensemble of 13 musicians comprising UH Mānoa music and theatre and dance majors, faculty and community members, will provide music emanating from the geza, an offstage musician’s box.

Master mentoring

Students seated playing shamisen, with Kashiwa instructing
Kabuki percussionist Kashiwa Senjirō (left) trains the music ensemble

This spring, the UH Mānoa Department of Theatre and Dance invited esteemed Kabuki percussionist Kashiwa Senjirō to train UH Mānoa students on campus. During an intensive three-week residency, Kashiwa taught student musicians a variety of kabuki-specific patterns that are integral to creating the atmospheric backdrop of the production. The live ensemble will also provide a range of sound effects, from the tinkling of butterflies to the thunderous crash of waves.

Among the melodic soundscape, audiences will hear UH Mānoa musician Morgan Chan’s thunderous taiko drumming. The graduate music student is humbled to be mentored by master artists.

Morgan Chan

“It’s been an amazing opportunity, and I’m very grateful that I guess, the stars have aligned, so they say,” said Chan. “It really adds to the atmosphere to have live music because as opposed to an audio track that gets played over, the musicians have the opportunity to respond to what’s happening on stage.”

UH Mānoa has brought in other respected musicians to mentor students in the ensemble; master shamisen artist Kineya Sakiyo (Bryson Teruo Goda, shakuhachi (bamboo flute) performer Christopher Yohmei Blasdel and Kenny Endo, a taiko master.

Arlo Chiaki Rowe, a directing MFA candidate at UH Mānoa, will lend their vocal talents to the ensemble. Rowe, who is of Japanese descent has been working for months to grasp their melodic contribution, seeing it as a meaningful connection to their cultural background.

“Being able to sing in Japanese, it gives me so many opportunities to really feel like, yeah this is my culture, this is what I want to do,” Rowe said.

Ticket information

Actors in kabuki costume and make up
Karese Kaw-uh as Benten Kozō

The upcoming UH Mānoa production, also commonly known as Benten Kozō, depicts five distinctive thieves with a mastery of masquerade and captures schemes and back stories that lead to shocking revelations, surprising reunions and startling twists. The 40-member cast will perform the play in English.

Ticket prices range $8–$25 for the production set to open April 19, 20, 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m. and April 28 at 2 p.m.

This play, which also marks Kennedy Theatre’s 60th anniversary season, pays homage to the longstanding tradition of Kabuki in Hawaiʻi, the very first on-campus production at UH Mānoa debuted in November 1924.

For more go to Kennedy Theatre’s website.

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