By Wayne Harada
PBS’ “Na Mele: Traditions in Hawaiian Song,” a longstanding series that has been showcasing musical treasures for seven years, moves into a new direction with the launch tonight of a salute to a cherished destination.
The focus traditionally has been on performers and music.
For the first time, the series — airing at 7:30 p.m. today on PBS — will pay tribute to a site, the Halekulani Hotel’s House Without a Key, where rhapsodic hula unfolds nightly. In another era, the House was the location of and title of the first Charlie Chan novel by Earl Derr Biggers, circa 1925, and the subject of two old Chan films.
“We want to document not only the treasures of traditional Hawaiian music but also an iconic, cherished local experience,” said Robert Pennybacker, PBS’ vice president of creative services and a veteran of TV specials that recall a time and place of Hawai‘i’s
The House Without a Key is a lasting memory of a golden era of Waikiki’s storied past.
Hula stylists Kanoe Miller and Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, who alternate in the sunset shows, perform hapa-haole and Hawaiian classics recalling simpler times, with Pa ‘ahana (Pakala Fernandes on bass and vocals, Kaipo Kukahiko on guitar and vocals and Douglas Tolentino on ‘ukulele and vocals) now dispensing the melodies, against the backdrop of Diamond Head in the distance and lapping waves on the shoreline.
The Halekulani segment also will share the memories of classic hula soloist Beverly Noa, who danced at the now-gone Hau Tree Terrace a stone’s throw from the House Without a Key, where she and vocalists Ed Kenney and Marlene Sai starred in the 1970s and ’80s.
“We are honored to be the first destination to host the PBS Hawaii series ‘Na Mele’ in HD,” said Gerald Glennon, general manager of Halekulani, of the high definition element of the production.
If the PBS cameras will zoom in on other historic destination in the months to come, where would you recommend?
My short list:
• The Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, an early venue for big band dancing and jazz with a Hawaiian punch.
• Waioli Tea Room in Manoa, which has links to author Robert Louis Stevenson.
• The Banyan Court of the ---- Moana and Surfrider Hotel, where the “Hawai‘i Calls” radio show beamed the tunes and spirit of the Islands to a pre-statehood audience.
• The ‘Ilikai Hotel, featured in the opening sequence of Jack Lord’s “Hawaii Five-O,” the first network series totally lensed in the Islands.
Alas, many worthy spots are long gone — Kau Kau Korner (now Hard Rock Café, which is moving to Waikiki Beach Walk); Duke Kahanamoku’s in the International Market, Place, where Don Ho got on the national radar as bona fide Island superstar; Canlis Restaurant, a longtime dining favorite with lounge music, where the Nike store now on Kalakaua Avenue; and Trader Vic’s, the fabled dining spot and icon of what mainlanders call “tiki lounge” format with its South Seas décor complete with sea glass balls, where the Honolulu Club now sits.
Where else would you nominate?