Keeping The Dream Alive

Kristian Lei, the former star of Miss Saigon, invites all her Broadway friends (and Broadway fans) to the Hawaii Theatre for concerts on August 25th and 26th

Bill Mossman
Friday - August 18, 2006
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Kristian Lei with brother Joshua Hegwood
Kristian Lei with brother Joshua

“Don’t touch my boy. He’s what I live for. He’s my only joy.” - lyrics from the musical “Miss Saigon,” as performed by the character Kim

Kristian Lei, founder of the non-profit group Honolulu Broadway Babies, has seen her share of the limelight. She’s witnessed her star rise from obscure beginnings to unmistakable heights, basking in the glow of Germanic adulation after landing the leading role in the musical Miss Saigon, which was staged in the city of Stuttgart eight years ago.

But to her credit, she’s never once lost sight of the object of her desires, not once forgotten about the wish she’s had since her days of roaming the halls at Waianae High School. You see, this country girl has always dreamed of owning a large plantation-style home, where those with disabilities, like younger brother Joshua, can go for additional schooling.

And if you haven’t quite figured it out, Joshua - who suffers from mild cerebral palsy - is her boy.

“We’ve always been really close,” Lei explains. “Growing up, I did a lot of the motherly things for Joshua, like cooking, washing and cleaning when my parents were at work. And since I’m only five years older than him, I would always visit his classroom when we were in elementary. I sort of became his friends’ big sister and naturally, I grew really fond of them too.

“So in my mind, it was always about the school,” she continues. “Singing and performing were sort of pushed into my life while I was in college. But my thinking has always been in helping those with disabilities. And the way to do that is to use my musical talents to generate enough funds to build this school.”

To that end, she is presenting her second benefit concert in the last two years, with proceeds from the event going toward Goodwill Industries of Hawaii and the construction of her own school. Broadway Mixed Plate 2006: Fresh Off the Boat, which features a star-studded cast of Broadway talent, is scheduled for August 25th and 26th evenings at the Hawaii Theatre. Both shows begin at 7:30.

“You’re never going to see so many people who have had lead roles in musicals on one stage in Hawaii,” states Lei, whose first benefit concert in 2004 played to sold out audiences at Leeward Community College and rave reviews.

“But that’s what we’re doing for the second time here in the Islands. The thing is, (these performers) are all volunteering their time because they know my younger brother and they believe in this cause. They know they’re not getting paid for this, and the only thing they can count on is being fed while here.”

With this year marking the centennial of Filipino migration to America, Lei has based the show’s theme on all those who came over to Hawaii in search of “a better life” - including herself.

“I was born in the Philippines,” she says. “My mother moved to Hawaii when I was young, and was trying to save money to bring me and my older brother over. My grandparents raised me until I was about 3. Then my mother brought us over.”

But as proud as she is of her heritage, the main thrust of the event is to create an enhanced life for those with disabilities. Aside from recruiting top-notch talent for the show, Lei has also convinced such notable companies as Verizon Wireless, Menehune Water, Aloha Airlines and Hilton Hawaiian Village to open their pockets as corporate sponsors.

“The people who climbed aboard loved Broadway and really wanted to see this happen,” Lei states, adding she was still somewhat surprised at the willingness of these companies to support the cause. “There are so many non-profits around and everybody wants these companies to support their cause. I’m sure at first they were thinking to themselves, ‘Why should we support you?’

“But I think they eventually saw it in my face - and that is the love that I have for my brother - and they were sold.”

The same could be said of her burgeoning music career. Those with an ear for song and an eye for marketability witnessed her perform while at LCC in the late ‘90s and were immediately sold on her raw yet seemingly limitless abilities.

After signing up for a drama course, the then 18-year-old Lei and her classmates were asked to perform a song a cappella. Admittedly nervous, Lei belted out the notes to the theme song from Ice Castles and won over the entire class. Amazingly, it was the first time she had ever performed a solo in front of a group of people.

“I was very scared,” admits Lei, who despite a hectic schedule plans on releasing a Christian CD early next year. “I was sort of in the closet with my singing. I mean, I had performed at church

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