"Don't overdo it," he said, after school at his Danville Oaks home.
David, who goes by Kelii, will fake a lisp for the part of Winthrop in the Diablo Light Opera Company production of "The Music Man," a dialect challenge in which he says subtlety is key. Along with 45 professional actors and an 18-piece orchestra, David will perform a month-long run of the show at the 850-seat Hoffman Theatre in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.
His character covers a range of emotions in the show, as the younger brother of Marian Paroo, the Music Man's love interest.
"He's a sad kid whose father just died. Ever since his dad died, he's been depressed - he doesn't talk a lot," Kelii said.
But then the Music Man arrives in town and everything changes.
Winthrop sees him as a father figure and things begin to look bright - at least for the moment, Kelii said.
"His role represents an exaggeration of the ups and downs of the town," said lead actor Keith Barlow, who plays the role of Professor Harold Hill.
"David's doing great, he's very mature for his age," Barlow added.
With no previous professional acting experience, Kelii was an unlikely choice for the role. While he had gone to an acting camp through the Town of Danville, he hadn't ever auditioned for a play on this scale.
"There were plenty of boys there, which got me a little nervous," he said.
But the directors and producers saw that he shined during callbacks, even though he wasn't originally asked back to read for the part of Winthrop.
"It made me think all the other Winthrops were better," he said.
During the auditions he read lines and sang in front of a group of seven, including the musical director and the executive producer. Having experience in a chorus and performing in a school play at Montair Elementary, where he attends fifth grade, helped him learn the basics - to speak up and sing on key.
It was tricky reading for the part considering that, walking into callbacks, he had no idea he would be reading for such a big part.
"Being onstage is sometimes the best and the worst part of acting," he said.
He prepared for the auditions by running through lines and practicing singing with his friend, using their family piano. Downloading some songs from "The Music Man" on i-tunes was also a good way to hear them beforehand, he said.
Now, months into rehearsals, he has the lines and the speech impediment nailed. It's second nature.
"'Music Man' is kind of part of me now," he said.
His mother Anne Kahawaii, who has admittedly peeked into some of his rehearsals, says both the actors and the venue are fabulous.
"Some of the leads have the most amazing voices," she said.
At rehearsals, which have been for three hours four times a week, Kelii said he's learned that acting takes dedication.
"It's not always fun and games; sometimes it's hard work," he said.
But even with all the practice time he's put in, he still gets some downtime with other children at the rehearsals. In the green room at the theater, he often plays cards with actors his age, that is, when he's not in the scene.
Directors of the show have advised the cast to avoid watching the film during the time of the rehearsal, as it adds dialogue and nuances that don't exist in the original script. They also point out that forcing humor onto some of the characters can distract from the earnestness of lines and the overall message of the play.
"(Playwright) Meredith Wilson wrote that you can't make some of the characters too funny," Kelii said.
In some scenes, however, humor is the focus. Kelii said his favorite part of the play is a scene in which the town gossips sing "Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little," a tune that satirizes nosy ladies by making them look like chickens.
If Kelii's enthusiasm and charmingly well-honed stutter isn't enough to get you to the show, the quality of the production should be, actors say.
"This is the 50th show I have done and this is one of the most talented casts I have ever seen," Barlow said.
Tickets are $27 for adults, $22 for seniors and $15 for children and the musical will run weekends March 30-May 6. The first weekend will kick off at El Campanil Theater in Antioch and all other shows will be held at the Walnut Creek theater. To purchase tickets call 757-9500 or visit www.dloc.org for more information.
Contact Natalie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org