By Wayne Harada
The colorful pageantry of holiday merriment is staged higher than ever atop a tier of red stairs (the stage is at the sixth step), anchored by a tall faux Christmas tree centerstage and a swath of red and white anthurium arranged in holiday twinkle several steps down from Robert on stand up bass fiddle and Roland on guitar.
This staging adds height and levity, grandeur and grandness to a formulaic tradition where singing dancers (or dancing singers, if you prefer) share the moods and music of the yuletide.
First and foremost, the production — which opened to a hearty first-night crowd last night — now is the lone holiday spectacle of its kind since the retirement of the Jim Nabors attraction that ran a decade in the same facility. Sure, there is a small handful of other Christmas shows (Jay Larrin does his clubby luncheon outing next Saturday at the Hawaii Prince Hotel and Matt Catingub and his Hawaii Pops have tapped the likes of the aforementioned Nabors and one the crooner’s regulars at the Hawaii Theatre, Emma Veary, in a dinner-dance-concert, also on Saturday) but none with the stature or track record as The Caz’s.
The tradition, of course, involves celebrating the reasons for the season — the shopping, the gift-exchanging, the religious, Hawaiian and pop music, and so on. The mix of fun with the solemnity of the goodwill and the birth of Christ are on the radar.
This year’s show begins like a moment from the reality show, “The Sing-off,” with halau singers and dancers rising from the orchestra pit, singing a capella with the dance of thumping hands by members of the gents (Halau Na Makalei O Lililehua) and wahine (The Royal Dance Company), and the audience is prepared to hoot and howl approval, just like the TV show.
The moment segues into bouncing and jingling bells, as the dancers sing “Jingle Bells” and “Sleigh Ride,” with the lead voices coming from Robert and Roland from their stagetop perch.
It’s all part of the kind of winter wonderland and wunderkind.
What’s encouraging: Robert’s halau, which had become solely a membership of senior troupers from way back when, now features seven or so (of the nearly 20) who are youngish and frisky as the elders were when they first started out. The generational change is healthy and hearty.
What’s sad: Longtime “third brother” Leinaala Kalama Heine, the venerable hula veteran, was solely missing, especially on what would have been one of her signature dancers, “White Christmas.” If you didn’t know she was a vital part of this journey year after year, you may not missed her; but many recall her, and privately must’ve wondered about her whereabouts or status. I presume it was a matter of health issues.
What’s refreshing: The addition, several years back, of the prevailing Miss Keiki Hula and Master Keiki Hula. Jeslie Ann Pavao, a fifth rader at Kawaikini Public Charter School, and Luke Hunadi, another fifth grader from Kalaheo Elementary School, were the reiging keiki winners, both members of Halau Ka Lei Mokihna O Leina’ala, and they brought down the house.
What’s remarkable: Robert is the foundation of this yearly production, as co-director (with the theater’s g.m. Burton White), and resource for much of the song selections (Roland gets bouquets for the musical arrangements). The bros can do the ballads and the rock-pops stuff with equal skill and charm, but they astound themselves often, like when Robert gasped after they completed the racing lyrics of “Carol of the Bells,” a job well down.
What’s appealing: The show always has a guest star and this season she’s Lehua Kalima, one-third of Na Leo Pilimehana, who brings brightness, a tad of bluesiness and a certainly a lot of appeal in her moments with the bros (“Jingle Bell Rock,” “What a Wonderful World”) and her big solo “What Love.”
What's expected: A snappy and robust array of group numbers by the male and female dancers; there's a smidgin of hula kahiko, a frothy and fun parody of Christmas hits staged as shopping send-ups; and frisky isolated vocals and dancers. So much effort goes into this one-weekend event, but that's the bottom-line expectation of this cast and crew.
What’s unexpected: For years now, The Caz have interrupted their performances with silly and hilarious exclamations and declarations of being parched on stage (well, they sing and talk a lot) as they prod audiences to enjoy the “official” bottled water at the theater, Hawaiian Springs. Well, with the bottler taking on the title sponsorship this year, it earned a bona fide choreographed moment, with cast and crew saluting Hawaiian Springs to a tune from “The Lion King” with clever, everlasting charm and gimmickry. They all can be forgiven what the program lists as a “Shameless Promotion,” but if it pays the bills, well, why not?
What’s annoying: In the first half of the evening, Robert and Roland’s black and white aloha shirts were augmented with a gliterring red bow-like tack-on at their individual necks that seemed to get in the way of singing and looked like awkward butterfly wings but turned out to be some kind of fabric representing poinsettia. Well, by Act 2, the annoyance was gone; it should never have been, though the opening segments featured the female dancers with poinsettia-motif accents on their costumes.
The program seemed shorter than usual, but nothing like leaving the audience begging for more.
One final observation: The finale, or lack of one, was awkward; a sort of gathering of all troupers, who sat on the stairs and rendered “Joyous World” and “From Our House to Your House” before segueing into “Mele Kalikimaka.” The flaccid closure, thus, was tentative and unfulfilling, begging for one more homer before the drive home.
Maybe one can be whipped up for the remaining two shows.
'A CAZIMERO CHRISTMAS'
Final shows: 7:30 p.m. Saturday Dec. 14, 2 p.m. Sunday Dec. 15
Where: Hawaii Theatre
Reservations: 528-0506, www.hawaiitheatre.com