Archive for May, 2014

REVIEW: Makuakane a master of hula innovation

May 12th, 2014

 Adaptation leads to innovation in the performing arts.

Consider: We wouldn’t have “West Side Story,” based on “Romeo and Juliet,” if it didn’t serve a dollop of  jazz dancing and story-progressing tunes rendered by conflicted teens from two opposides sides of the tracks. Similarly, “Rent” added a rock core to Puccini’s “La Boheme” opera, speaking a new language targeting a contemporary audience not commonly considered for the Broadway genre.


In this spirit, this past weekend’s visit of Patrick Makuakane’s San Francisco-based halau, Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu — in two sellout performances at the Hawaii — discovered resources for reinterpretation with uncanny and unexpected results. Makuakane, a former Oahu dancer-kumu hula with roots in Robert Cazimero’s Halau Na Kamalei, is a prolific craftsman without boundaries. His joyous, inventive, adaptation element created flash and wattage for a changing audience of Hawaiiana fans; his was a halau of a performance (I attended Saturday night’s show), laden with genuine,creative bursts, with a foundation trackable to tradition.

Makuakane’s latest production, exploring mele extracted from and inspired by vintage Hawaiian newspapers of the past 100 years, had solid island ties, embracing history but served with his keen sense of adventure and exploration. His daring, bold style and manner have stunned and, yes,  even offended Hawaiian purists in the past (think Merrie Monarch Festival) but there’s no denying: Makuakane is onto something vivid and vibrant and immensely refreshing. Advance alert: Kumu Cazimero will join Makuakane’s halau in a San Francisco dance-out in October; should be visual fireworks and fun.

If there was any fault in “Ka Leo Kanaka (Voice of the People),” theme of the endeavor, it might simply be the inert, limp, prolonged  opening narrative, done in the darkness with the theater’s curtain still down, doing precious little for anticipation of the launch. However, Once the lights went on and the narration pau, there was the energy and physicality of hula, of course, about the legend of Pele, her sister Hiiaka, and their relationship with the handsome Lohiau … fodder for  hula ‘auana. Yes, a rousing opening dance, despite the awkward and turtle-paced prelude.

The heart of the evening embraced visuals of vintage nupepa (newspapers) and stylized drawings of Pele and ‘ohana, providing the backdrop, but the party didn’t reach sizzle level until the pre-intermission montage of Hawaiian jazz and soul, with a stunning hula solo to “Embraceable You” featuring Desiree Woodward Lee in a willowing rose gown. Then joyful syncopation started popping and pounding, with halau ensemble members jitterbugging to “I’ve Got Rhythm” and resorting to flash-dancing spontaneity supported by audience applause.

Before the curtain fell, “Ta-Hu-Wa-Hu-Wa-I,” aka “Hawaiian War Chant,” provided the cherry on the cake: razzmatazz with contagious hand-and-foot-and-body action. It was the essence of adaptation with ideology, elevating dance to an art form that transcends Hawaiiana and sashays into the realm of the iconic. Merrie, but perhaps not for Monarchs.

It was all incredibly ingenious, with dashes of hip-hop and boogie-woogie, recalling the  era of big-band dancing and prancing. Clearly, an intermission was needed.

The second act included more samplings of newspaper-originated nibbles — personal messages from commoners, lamenting the vagaries and challenges of life and relationships; a hula about papers with dancers hoisting newspapers; and a emotional and powerful lament about the death of a royal child.

Just when you think the newspaper homage was overstaying its welcome, a nimble and nuanced coupling of two unrelated modern songs, Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” and Spandau Ballet’s “True.” The juxtaposition of a hip-hop hit with a romantic ballad provided contrast and challenged the dance couple, Kahala Bishaw-Fisher and Jason Laskey, to be frisky with the upbeat and smooth with the balladry, and they killed it with formidable chemistry and artistry. Again, it was Makuakane, thinking and reacting outside of the box.

Kupaoa, the Honolulu duo featuring Kihau Hannahs-Paik and Kellen Palk, were house musicians in live portions as well as on their solo newspaper-originated mele, ”Water Lily.” Kris Lee also was an accompaniment.

As a kumu, Makuakane is a do-all dude. With his huggable-bear demeanor, he is at once lordly but accessible, very conversational in his intros, passionate about his craft, and takes an occasional turn as a chanter as well as a singer. His pride emanates from his accomplished company of nearly 30 of both genders.

So: Stop the presses! Makuakane may not be a Merrie Monarch winnah (he acknowledged this) but he knows how to adapt and turn the familiar into the fabulous. He is a master of innovation, bar none.








Spirit of 'ohana prevails in 'Hawaii Five-0' season finale

May 10th, 2014











 McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) and Grover (Chi McBride) bond in finale. CBS photo

Family bonding and the spirit of  ‘ohana were the underlying roots of the finale of the fourth season of “Hawaii Five-0.”

The show, themed “‘Oka Pili ‘Ohana ka ‘Oi (Family Comes First),” focuses on the kidnapping of the Samantha (Paige Hurd), the daughter of  SWAT team member Lt. Lou Grover (Chi McBride), who literally weeps with  agony of pain that he’s unable to rescue her. Grover was to be the reluctant insider to a theft of $100 million being shipped, forcing him to bypass good conduct of an honorable Honolulu police officer, ultimately leading to his dismissal from the force. Bottom line: a dad would do anything for his daughter — the family-comes-first commitment in full display.

Two villains — not particularly welcome, since they bring unwanted baggage, but necessary for plot advancement from the file folders — emerge in this episode —Ian Wright (Nick Jonas, from the singing-acting Jonas Brothers ‘ohana, as the computer wizard) and none other than Wo Fat (Mark Dacascos, channeling more menace with his burn-scarred face).

The homecoming, however, gave the island-based CBS show a nice boot up in the preliminary overnight ratings,  with 9.09 million viewers in its 8 p.m. (9 p.m. Mainland) time slot, and a 1.3 rating in the 18 to 49 adult demographics. The show had the most viewers in its hour, but ABC’s “Shark Tank” topped the demos with a 1.9 rating with 7.20  million viewers.  “Five-0’s” demos tied NBC’s “Grimm,” which pulled in 4.8 million viewers. So “Five-0” won in viewers,  but was second in adults 18 to 49, the coveted advertising price-setter. As the lead-in show to "Blue Bloods," "Five-0" has made Friday a  payday, a night that traditionally meant a place where a series went to die.

The thing about kidnapping plots: you know, for the most part, the victim will be saved. How, and under what circumstances, shape the storytelling.

With Jonas’ return, you knew there would be some nasty computer/video hacking and halting and bomb threats that challenge airport security forces; with Dacascos, he creates an exploding device, allowing him to escape from prison) and — spoiler alert — is the unexpected soul who shoots Jonas’ character. But with Wo Fat back, the buzz about his ties with Mama McGarrett (Christine Lahti) recurs.

Further, you knew that the “Five-0” team would bond and support each other.

Of course, Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Danno Williams (Scott Caan), would have one more cargument, aboard what they called a "clown car" (a rental with three wheels) but there was a touching scene, too, in a real Chevy car, between Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) and Kono Kalakaua (Grace Park).  The chatter was intimate and revealing, McG yearning and wondering about the extended leave of Catherine (Michelle Borth), opining, “She’s not coming home till the job’s done”), referring to her mission of finding that kidnapped Afghan child. Kono and Chin’s serious patter (they are cousins, remember) includes her revelation of her uncertainty to link with her b.f. Adam, though she wants marriage and kids; Chin ponders of the uncertainty of life, with the unexpected death of his Malia.

Danno also offers comfort to Grover, regarding his hostage child, sharing his personal feelings about the time his daughter Grace was taken, but ultimately recovered. The advice: “Stay focused.”

I could do without Ian’s comparison of the Five-0  with the Fabulous Four, with Ian declaring he’s the Beatles’ Brian Epstein.  Betcha today’s young viewers don’t even know who Epstein was.

With Grover bounced from the force, he has time for leisurely golf, but policing has been his life. So not surprisingly, McG hands him a “Five-0” badge and welcomes the ex-Chicagoan to his team. “It’s not a hand-out, Lou,” McG tells Grover. “We need you.”

Indeed. I knew, from the time McBride was announced to be a recurring character, that he’d evolve into a key player in crimefighting in Hawaii. That initial McG/Grover growling likely will recur, but hey, differing styles and opinions only can solidify the family relationship. You go, guys.

Overall, ABC topped the demos with a 1.5 rating and 5 share, CBS had the most viewers, with 5.93 million and a 1.2 adult demo. And true to the script, CBS’ “Blue Bloods” logged the most viewers (11.50 million viewers) and
“Shark Tank” had the best adult demos (1.9 rating).


REVIEW: ‘Te Moana Nui’ elevates Tihati’s Polynesian legacy

May 5th, 2014

“Te Moana Nui,” Tihati Productions’ exquisite flagship Waikiki show, brings authentic Hawaiiana to a new home, the Grand Ballroom of the Pacific Beach Hotel.

It heralds a major chapter in the changing and expanding Tihati ‘ohana legacy in Waikiki over the past four decades. It’s the first vehicle — and the fourth Tihati entity on Oahu — overseen by the next-generation show creators, Misty Tufono and Afatia Thompson, the daughter and the son of pioneering Tihati founders Jack and Cha Thompson.

ET_Te_Moana_Nui_01_0317 (1)



This is a vivid and vibrant postcard of the future of the Tihati brand, teeming with company’s longstanding trademark trinity of show production: entertainment, education and elevation.

“Te Moana Nui” — which loosely translates to “the vast ocean” —  is high on history and sizzling with showmanship, with Tufono’s writing and choreographic skills channeling and unlocking  traditional tales in a smooth, almost conversational script, framed with her brother Thompson’s flair for experimentation with modern elements including high-definition LED video to enhance the storytelling. He also composed the show’s title song.

The show explores the storied history, the colorful people, and the authentic costumes of the fertile South Seas. Images of the vast oceans and verdant islands provide the backdrop of seafaring voyagers who share tales and traditions of the Polynesian culture, the serious alternating with the comic, the simple with the spectacular, the intimate with the lavish.

Throughout, it upholds the rules of theater to keep it flowing, the secret of education to keep it valid and real, and the edginess of innovation to raise the bar on this genre of Polynesian syncopation and exposition.


This is not a typical luau show. The Samoan fire knife dance is the nightcap, as always, but there is uncompromising care to preserve the stories of a generation past with drumbeats, guitars and chorale singing, which elevates “Te Moana Nui” to folklorico levels.  As a fixture previously under the Starwood/Sheraton umbrella —  before relocating to the Pacific Beach located in a sector of Waikiki not previously known for a visitor-oriented attraction — Tihati is planting new seeds on fertile new grounds.

The transition from the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel’s Ainahau Ballroom, where the Tihati spectacle had been anchored for three decades, succeeds though the Pacific Beach only recently has realized that a sleeping giant is under its roof.  Challenged to retain tradition but also reach out for new paths, both the younger Thompson offspring as well as the hotel — which hasn’t quite grasped the potential in its new tenant — are jockeying for market share. The show has been running for two months, with scanty advertising to build visibility and accessibility. On-premise posters aside, wholesalers are still weighing options to elevate buy-and-sell options to the changing flock of Mainland and foreign clientele hungry for a taste of Polynesia while on Oahu.

Surely, this is the go-to show if you have out-of-town visitors. Or just go, for a cultural night out.

With an ensemble of alluring women and athletic men who sing and dance with ease and flair, it’s like watching a National Geographic spectacle leaping to life with visuals that pan the mountains and seas. The artistry is vibrant and the panorama resonates with the rhythms and rhetoric of the peoples of Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, Maori New Zealand, Samoa and Tahiti. The drumming defines heartbeat and spirit; a musical ensemble provides instrumentation and sweet harmonies; but the performers also vocalize and move with impeccable precision and exhilarating passion.

And you don’t need a passport to navigate this Pacific treasure.

The opening otea features dancers on a double-hulled canoe, journeying from Raiatea to Hawaii. The climactic Samoan siva ahi (fire knife dance) features Mikaele Oloia, a four-time fire dance winner, whose feats bring spectators to their feet with roaring approval.

In-between, the numbers range from a solemn Fijian dance called the Meke, about a high chief venturing a journey into the unknown, to a Maori sequence  honoring seagoers savvy about canoe-building, ocean currents, and reading the “maps” provided by stars. And yes, the women whirl Maori poi balls and the gents engage in tongue-wagging gyrations of the spirited warrior.

The popular Samoan maulu‘ulu (women’s dance) and siva fa‘ataupati (men’s slap dance) are party-hearty and provoke fun, while the taualuga (dance of the virgin princess) is celebratory with hopes for a fruitful life in a new world, with Eden Annendale as the centerpiece.


ET_Te_Moana_Nui_01_0247A Waikiki stop assembles hapa haole songs in a nostalgic look at the distant past, with hula soloist Nicole Thompson exuding dreamy sweetness.  The show’s title song emerges in the dance of Tahiti, the ahuroa, where a woman’s attributes are compared to the syncopation of the rolling waves, with lithe Heather Ruth as the soloist.

Micah Tiedemann, a versatile dancer, doubles as a conversational emcee; he also designed and created many of the show’s lavish and vivid costumes with a palate boasting more hues than a rainbow.

There are four staging areas: the central mainstage, two auxiliary platforms boasting sailboats to the left and right, and a middle spot front and center. This crossfire movement provides variety, challenging viewers to remain alert on where  the action might be for solo dancing or a brief monologue setting up a centerstage moment.

Arrive early, and participate in pre-show festivities ranging from storytelling to stamping kapa to make bookmarks, from floral crafts to Polynesian tattooing.

This is Tihati’s fourth Oahu endeavor — others are at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and most recently the Marriott resort at Ko Olina — which makes the company the most prolific of local show producers.



Where: Grand Ballroom, Pacific Beach Hotel

When: Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays

Time: Pre-show festivities from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., buffet service from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.; show at 7:30 p.m.

Cost: Dinner show package, includes a bountiful prime rib buffet feast with one Mai Tai or soft drink: adults (13 and older), $115; children (5-12) , $82; infants (4 and under), free; cocktails-only includes two standard drinks or one exotic (fruit punch for children):

adults (13 and older), $68; children (5 to 12), $50.

Information: 922-1233,





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'Five-0's' Afghan episode: Fish out of water?

May 3rd, 2014










Makani 'Olu A Holo Malie (Fair Winds and Following Seas)

Alex O'Loughlin (Steve McGarrett) and Michelle Borth (Catherine Rollins) in Afganistan. CBS photo.

“Hawaii Five-0” was a somewhat of a fish out of  water in Friday’s (May 2) episode, and indeed, waters infested by a shark.

That is to say, the CBS procedural — largely staged as a Catherine-goes-to-Afghanistan-to-repay-a-debt-with-McGarrett’s-help mini-movie — was a leap of faith with iffy results.

First off, “Five-0” barely won the 8 p.m. hour (9 p.m.  Mainland), with 8.69 million viewers, a whisker ahead of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” which pulled in 8.08 million, according to preliminary overnight Nielsen ratings, which may change with numbers updates.  Worse, in the coveted 18 to 49 adult demographics, “Shark” was No. 1 with a 2.2 rating, compared to the 1.2 logged by the homegrown show; this was an 8 per cent decrease for “Five-0” from last week’s 1.3 adults in 18 to 49. Even NBC’s “Grimm” had better demos (1.4) though fewer viewers (5.20 million), a matter of importance in setting advertising rates.

The episode, entitled “Makani ‘Olu a Holo Malie (Fair Winds and Following Seas),” was a risky send-off for actress Michelle Borth, who plays Catherine Rollins, the love interest of Alex O’Loughlin’s Steve McGarrett. Did it bite off more than it could chew?

At a poker game studded with faces that have previously appeared before (including Larry Manetti, Al Harrington, Duane “Dog” Chapman), Cath receives a desperate call from a Pashtan gent who previously rescued her, whose son was captured by the Taliban. She tells McG about the situation, and he goes along to support her mission, heading for Kabul.

The focus on Cath was valid; but the plot didn’t thicken, it sickened.  When the two arrive, he gets injured in a grenade throw, so now her search is for two, not one.

McG is captured, tortured, taunted, and gets roughed up and displayed in Taliban fashion, in a video. The Taliban supposedly keeps a case of enemy photos in a file, and there’s a pic of McG in his SEAL era, which leads to more beatings. McG doesn’t fess up names that the Taliban wants. “I can’t remember,” he pleads.

Of course, the home team — dealing with a subplot about stolen organs — has to come to the rescue, and Danno (Scott Caan) leads the troops. That means a plane, a team of soldiers, an effort with global implications (like, breaking the rules and laws) … acquired by bending reality a lot.  At least this time, the errant squad took a military plane to Afghan, not like the botched episode when McG went international to Korea, aboard a helicopter.

OK, the theme of loyalty, love, trust, friendship, debt-paying, humanity play out throughout the show, with mixed resulots

When the military brass discover the rescue squad’s antics, Danno is wonderfully aloof, brushing them off with a brave tone and saying he’s a civilian, not in the military. In other words, buzz off. As if it would work in real life.

Alas, the Afghan kid is not found, so there’s a window of  opportunity to revisit the case— and Cath — in a future episode. She remains there, he returns home, both with heavy hearts. As former Naval types and “Five-0” team members, they remain Navy strong, to be sure.

But McG wasn’t the only one tortured. His fans probably didn’t want to see him weep. Isn’t he supposed to the rock, the foundation, the pillar of the show?

In this one, McG is very human. There are real tears in his eyes (hers, too). There’s a telephone exchange between him and Cath, with several “I love you, you know,” “I’ll be careful,” “I love you, too,” “Good luck,” “Aloha,” “Aloha.”

She scoots off on a cycle — but you know she’ll be back.

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