Donor Stories

The Lee Family – A Joyous Journey Through the Magic of Theater

As the thrilling opening chords of "The Phantom of the Opera" swelled through Dillingham Theater a few years ago, 11-year-old Nicki Lee's eyes grew wide with wonder. And when the audience erupted in thunderous applause two hours later, Nicki turned and whispered to her parents, Darrell and Cathy Lee.
"Someday I want to go to school here. And I want to be on that stage!"

At that time back in 2010, Nicki was a sixth-grader at Hanahau'oli. The following year, her dream came true. Now a student at Punahou, she recently landed the exhilarating lead role in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and is already looking forward to more time on stage, with the hope that her artistic journey will someday lead to Broadway.
"We've seen her in many shows," says her interior designer mom, "but for us, sitting in the audience in Dillingham for "Millie," and seeing her on that big stage with that incredibly talented cast, it was probably the point we decided we really wanted to give back, to support her passion. That's really what inspired us as a family to create an endowed fund specifically to enhance the theater programs.

"We know there are so many kids who have a passion for the arts," said Cathy Lee, "so this fund will also help generations to come so that other children will also have more opportunities."

Darrell Lee, a gastroenterologist with his own private practice and surgical center in Pearl City, has already given up on his daughter following in his footsteps. He chuckles for a moment. "She does have to have a back-up plan," he says. "A singing and dancing pediatrician!But seriously, academically Punahou has so much to offer beyond her interest in theater. The Punahou community is so incredible. We go to all of the events now, and it's really special and very warm."

In the two years since their daughter was admitted in seventh grade, the Lees have become integral members of the Punahou family. For the production of "Millie," for instance, 60 friends and relatives were in the audience cheering Nicki on. That's what the extended family has done ever since her debut on stage as a four-year-old at Ala Moana Center when she belted out the theme song from "The Little Mermaid" – and swept the top award!
As Nicki settles into the Academy, the Lees are also looking forward to seeing their endowment help with expansion of the smaller, more intimate "Black Box" theater program that enables students to design and create their own productions.

"Nicki really has a ball in theater," said Cathy, "and we wanted all the kids to have even more opportunities such as having guest artists or people from Broadway come for workshops. We feel that's where they learn so much – getting up on stage and being hands-on – and hearing from people who are living the dream they hope to live one day.

"This is our daughter's passion, and she will always have her amazing education to fall back on."