The Other ‘Players’ At St. Louis

Getting the rights to Elton John’s ‘Aida’ is a real coup for drama director Kyle Kekuno, making Saint Louis the first high school in the country to produce the musical

Katie Young
Friday - March 04, 2005
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Saint Louis School, known for years as a football powerhouse that turned out all-star players, is turning out another kind of excellence these days — in the theater. And this weekend the Saint Louis Players stage the Hawaii premiere of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida, the winner of four Tony Awards on Broadway.

Mahi‘ai Kekumu, who performed
in the Broadway version of ‘Aida,’
plays Radames, and Mid-Pacific
senior Leihoku Pedersen has the
lead role of Aida

Saint Louis is also the first high school in the country to produce Aida.

Performance dates are March 4-6 and 11-13 at Mamiya Theatre.

Kyle Kekuno, drama director at the all-boys school, says the 25 cast members include talented youth from Kaimuki, Kaiser, Kamehameha, La Pietra, Maryknoll, Mid-Pacific, Roosevelt, Sacred Hearts and Saint Louis schools, including local singer Tani Lynn Fujimoto, who plays the role of the princess Amneris.

There’s also a guest performance by Mahi‘ai Kekumu, who performed in the Broadway version of Aida for two years as Mereb, and has the male lead role of Radames in the Saint Louis Players’ production.

Aida, an ancient tale of the ultimate sacrifice between lovers struggling against extraordinary odds, is not a story that’s new to the stage. But Kekuno explains that obtaining the rights to Aida required perfect timing.

“Usually, a show is on Broadway and when it closes it goes on national tour,” he says. “Only when the tour ends do the rights to amateur productions for community theatres, colleges and high schools become available.”

Kekuno was notified by e-mail before the Broadway production of Aida closed in September 2004 that the licensing rights were going to be made available. When Kekuno checked, he was told it wasn’t going to be made public for three more years.

Then he received another e-mail that said the rights were going to be available for Hawaii and Alaska only because the tour would not be coming to those states.

“I sent in my application for the rights, but didn’t hear back for three months,” says Kekuno. “So in the meantime, I decided to do another show, Sweet Charity.”

The check to pay for the rights for that production was sitting in the Saint Louis School business office to be sent out in the Friday mail when Kekuno got word that the school had been approved to go ahead with Aida.

Other community theatres and schools had already announced their seasons, and even Saint Louis had held auditions for Sweet Charity. Kekuno made the decision to run with Aida even without ever seeing the production himself. So he re-cast parts and started preparations for the grueling musical in the fall semester.

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