Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

A jazzy Melveen Leed is red hot at Blue Note

March 23rd, 2016



Melveen Leed often has proclaimed that jazz has been a passion in her career.

Last Monday night (March 21), she demonstrated this passion with a powerful first-time showing at the Blue Note Hawaii club at the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel.

For someone who has been teetering over the decades, between a Hawaiian Tita and a Local Diva, Leed finally proved she also can be a chanteuse, given the opportunity. Surely, her first Blue Note appearance won’t be her last.

With an all-star combo of four backing her up, Leed put all doubts aside that she is, when she wants to be, a a jazz singer. And lord, she really wanted this one.

While she had teetered from a Hawaii soulstress to a patron of paniolo country over the decades, the jazz thing had been overshadowed by what otherwise perhaps came too easily. Sure, her fans love her comedics, her tita-isms that suited her impromptu performances that often lacked discipline, but jazz requires focus and form and and dedication and delivery.

She scored on all fronts. She was red hot, with all her vocal cylinders shining and chiming. She was confident; she had style; she delivered.

Dedicating her first of two sets to two ailing performers, jazz singer Jimmy Borges and Hawaiian icon Cyril Pahinui, Leed opened her gig with an easy-going “The More I See You.” Her excursion included some standards that were stamped with jazz phraseology and intonation, such as “One Note Samba,” “The Nearness of You,” “Just in Time,” even “My Funny Valentine.” In the jazz realm, delivery is the thing, with tempo and mood defining the genre. It's not what you sing, but how you sing it.

She was playful and interactive with her band, comprised of keyboarder Dan Del Negro, drummer Peter Factora, bassist Byron Yasui, and ukulele strummer Benny Chong; while piano and drums and stand-up bass are common jazz instruments, a jazz ukulele is surely rare, and Chong, the former member of The Aliis, Don Ho’s sidekicks, added a measure of unique plucking  akin to a special language during the evening.

With her intense desire to please, Leed at one point sighed out loudly: “I never work this hard for a long time,” meaning that the commitment to sit in the jazz saddle was no easy trot. “But I love it.”

Much to the delight of her diehard fans, Leed did leave the jazz trail for a couple of her idiosyncratic hits, like “E Kuu Morning Dew,” which she delivered with fond and gentle departure of her familiar Hawaiian version, though she tossed in a one-hand-hula moment or two to indicate her roots.

There were two other Hawaiian gems: “O Kalena Kai,” which showed off her upper registers beautifully, and “Hi’ilawe,” the Gabby Pahinui signature, which she began while tickling the ivories (because Del Negro didn't know the song) then proceeded to render it with island-style respect and resourcefulness. You can get off the jazz trail, after all, and for a few brief moments, the Blue Note observed its first Aloha Monday (vs. Friday) celebration.

“I’ve always wanted to play the Blue Note in New York,” Leed said after her performance. Perhaps with this maiden voyage in Honolulu, she’ll get her ticket to the Big Apple in the months ahead. Or, if nothing else, a hana hou at the Hawaii destination.














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Moana’s 115th gala: old times, new goals?

March 18th, 2016




Nina Kealiiwahamana

Nina Kealiiwahamana

Palani Vaughan

Palani Vaughan

Taimane Gardner

Taimane Gardner

Kaummakaiwa Kanakaole

Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole

Pomaikai Lyman

Pomaikai Lyman

The Westin Moana Surfrider’s 115th anniversary gala, held in the historic Banyan Court ‘neath the vintage landmark banyan tree, was a time for Hawaiian souvenirs — with reflections of the past and expectations of the future.

The event, coordinated by entertainer Makana and staged on the actual 115th birthday (March 11) of the first lady of Waikiki — the iconic Moana Hotel — was a curious mixture of old times and manners and current styles and maneuvers.

Makana delivered a program that intended to recreate the golden days of radio, specifically the historic “Hawaii Calls” program originated by the late Webley Edwards, which beamed melodies and memories of the tropical Hawaii “live” (though actually in delayed radiocasts) in the heyday of radio. It was an era when imagination was a requirement for transportation to the idyll that was Hawaii. Via words and music, no visuals of hula or singing.

Because of licensing restrictions, the event had to reimagine the memories and delivery to “Radio Waikiki,” a last-minute name change. This mattered mostly to purists who recalled the original “Hawaii Calls,” before the era of television, when radio was a prime source of at-home entertainment, and the show was an audio beacon to lure travelers to Hawaii.

The format and execution assembled a bevy of performers initially adhering to the original Hawaiian format of the old radio show, but digressed into other rhythms and styles, which provided mixed results.

The take-away:

  • Makana is a versatile singer, composer, slack key guitarist, and researcher, with ambition to spare, but he is no Edwards. He has a gift of gab, but radio is not his medium, yet he rallied with tireless energy and desire to please, enacting Webley as the fictional deejay with the fun-and-pun handle, Sunny Shores. The musical program strayed from its original course and started to include Latin rhythms and titles that within the scope of the era. And the show ran far too long, 2 ½ hours, with occasional dead spots. Still, Makana’s narrative and effort were impressive.
  • The sole original “Hawaii Calls” cast member, the venerable Nina Keali‘iwahamana, remained regal in voice and delivery, still a champion of community endeavors that benefit from her presence and sheer good cheer. This, despite her recent battle with breast cancer. She brought authenticity and knowledge to the proceedings, via her stance on ancient Hawaiiana and notable on her “Makee ‘Ailana” selection, the romantic tune about the island once a popular destination within Kapiolani Park. Lamentably, she couid not deliver the vocal in her key, since Makana made it a duet at times, performing in his key.
  • The guest roster also included Pomaikai Lyman, granddaughter of the late Genoa Keawe, whose “Hawaiian Souvenirs” and “Alika” offerings enchanted the audience, notably with her ability to hold that lasting “Alika” note; Palani Vaughan, the specialist in King Kalakaua-era music, was a pleasant surprise since he no longer is active on the show circuit, but his three-tune Hawaiian medley of monarchial steamships did not connect with the crowd, but he found redemption with his memorable Maui locomotive hit, “Kaa Ahi Kahului,” the “chuka chuka” sing-along charmer; Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole, the transgender son of Kekuhi Kanahele-Frias and the grandchild of Pualani Kanaka‘ole of the famed Big Island hula ‘ohana tracing roots to kumu Edith Kanaka‘ole, was riveting and resourceful in her foray into modern-generation Hawaiiana, complete with contemporary rhythmic flourishes, making her now and wow and clearly a representative of a generation past with her own   force of the imminent future; Taimane Gardner, garnering and building her legacy as a ukulele soloist to reckon with, with strumming skills combined with choreographic turns; and while Lopaka Colon, the expressive and effervescent percussionist-son of the late great Augie Colon was masterful in solo and back-up performances, his island-pop posture was splendid, but out of synch with the celebratory Hawaiian tone; Buck Giles, who collaborated with Makana in producing the concert for the Moana milestone, distinguished himself as a steel guitar artist, too.

Clearly, the radiocast format required descriptive poetry of the Hawaii that many dreamed of visiting, at a moment in history when ship voyages were more common (and expensive) than air travel. Makana’s script included this rhapsodic vision: “They built a castle by the sea, and pictures of it called to me. I dreamt of it on winter days, of sand beneath the sun’s warm rays. But none so true did sing my tune nor beckon me with lullaby croon, than that fine voice lilting on waves of sound and sea — it fed my craves to board the Lurline for her shores and leave the cold forever more.” Such was his spoken valentine to Moana, the gracious first lady of Waikiki hotels.

For atmosphere, a vintage stage mike and an “On Air” lighted sign added to the radio feel, and a “commercial” for the hotel mentioned a room with telephone and private bath, plus an elevator, for $1.50 per night. And with tongue in cheek, Sunny Shores shored up a weather report, mentioning Guy Yagi for impact, of “50 per cent chance of sunrise tomorrow.”

The anniversary celebration earmarked proceeds for the Bishop Museum, the Historic Hawaii Foundation and the Waikiki Aquarium, demonstrating the hotel’s commitment to become a valuable contributing member of the community with the goal to retain and reclaim the importance of things and themes Hawaiian.

For this, hotel manager Lawrence Hanson and his staff deserve hurrahs and applause. Waikiki has become overbuilt, overpopulated and divisive — know any locals who yearn to pay regular visits anymore?

Still, Hanson revealed that some longtime guests make regular pilgrimages to the Moana, to savor the hospitality and ambiance of the bygone days — and no, a stay isn’t $1.50 a night anymore. In this respect, the Moana still holds a special spot in the hearts of a declining population.

But inventive special events, like the anniversary party and the earlier February fund-raiser for ailing singing legend Jimmy Borges, attracted locals. Mount it, and they will convene.

On this note, perhaps Hanson and the Moana (still, the Westin Moana Surfrider in the current billing, including the old Surfrider wing) should possibly revive monthly or periodic shows at the Banyan Court as part of an ongoing program to perpetuate and preserve that culture of entertainment that seems to be static along Kalakaua Avenue. The grand days of showrooms in every hotel are gone, but some of the venues surely could resurrect reignite and reestablish a new generation of celebrants. Surely, Hawaiian entertainment could jump-start a cycle of locals returning to Waikiki and simultaneously encourage a new breed of a future Don Ho, Hilo Hattie, Alfred Apaka, Ohta-san and Haunani Kahalewai?

It’s got to start with the hoteliers. There’s a whole bunch of talent, but only few spots to developing acts to perform for a future generation of Hawaii visitors.



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'Five-0' to be honored at TIM's 50th gala

March 15th, 2016


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The Jack Lords and the Leonard Freemans at "Five-0" premiere in 1968;

Peter Lenkov is the prevailing exec producer of the reboot "Five-0."
 “Hawaii Five-0,” the reboot police procedural completing its sixth season of filming here, will be saluted by the University of Hawaii School of Travel Industry Management (TIM) in a “Celebrate a Legacy in Tourism” gala at 5:30 p.m. March 31 at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel.

Appropriately, TIM is marking its 50th anniversary, so shining the spotlight on “Five-0” seems to be well-timed.

Peter Lenkov, the prevailing executive producer, and the late Leonard Freeman, the original creator-producer of the CBS series, will both be honored — the first from a creative element of the hospitality community. In the past, TIM has honored individuals from hotels, airlines, travel publishing and other spokes of the wheels that drive the visitor industry.

Thomas Bingham, dean of the TIM school, said “Five-0” television reach as a “global phenomenon that contributes to the largest industry in Hawaii.”

The original “Five-0,” which made Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett, a household name, ran for 12 seasons, from 1968 to 1980. The update version, with Alex O’Loughlin as McGarrett, is awaiting a green light for its seventh.

The event also will honor Noel Trainor, principal of Savoy Consulting LLC, with the TIM Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to the travel industry, and Daniel Chun, a TIM alumnus who is a regional manager of sales and community marketing for Alaska Airlines, will be inducted into the TIM Alumni Hall of Honor.

Sponsorship tables as well as individual tickets are available through TIM at 956-8946.

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Review: 'Kopy Katz' salutes yesteryear's musical legends

March 9th, 2016


“Waikiki Kopy Katz,” a sweet valentine to the Waikiki of yesteryear, reimagines musical personalities from the past in a concise and nostalgic time-travel adventure bursting with charm.

Presented Wednesdays at the Warrior Lounge of the Hale Koa Hotel, the show has been a solid sell-out for the past month and has been extended for eight more weeks. Co-produced by veteran Waikiki showman Jack Cione (who wrote and directed) and stand-up comic Bo Irvine (who serves as host), “Waikiki Kopy Katz” owes its success to four contemporary troupers from Honolulu’s nightclub and theatrical stages, who deliver charming tributes — not impersonations — of Don Ho, Hilo Hattie, Alfred Apaka with an unexpected visit by Frank Sinatra.

The brainchild of veteran showman Cione, these encounters are enacted in joyous salutes by Kimo Kahoano (Ho), Cathy Foy (Hattie) and Charles Degala (Apaka); they revive trademark tunes in incidental liaisons that likely never happened in their lifetime but logical in this flashback.

Further, as a set-up in a bar of club of the past, Randy Smith appears as Ol’ Blue Eyes with generous musical tidings — even though Frank Sinatra never performed in Waikiki.

No matter.

This is a new gem in Waikiki’s nightlife. It’s cute, contagious and charismatic — like revered puka shells strewn together with adoration — reflecting laid-back, gentler times in Waikiki. In short: this is a sentimental journey, a treasure to embrace and take home.

Kahoano, a veteran radio personality, TV host and sometimes actor and singer, does sound like Mr. Waikiki with “Ain’t No Big Thing,” “Tiny Bubbles” and “Pearly Shells.” The drawl’s perfect, the Ho-style banter echoing the original, as Kahoano treks from the bar to the stage in the tone and manner of Ho.

Foy, on the other hand, doesn’t sound or resemble the iconic comedienne, Hilo Hattie, but when she puts her own imprint on the signature tunes. Combined with Hattie’s trademark hip and hop, Foy reestablishes the legendary comedienne with adoration and grace. The recollection taps “When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop” and “The Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai;” the papale may not be lauhala but the kerchief around the butt is certainly Hattie-precise. In short: Foy lovingly elevates her interpretation to musical theater.

Degala, also a onetime staple of local stage, brings a soaring vocal presence and genuine aloha to Alfred Apaka; a signature medley of “Beyond the Reef,” “Tonight Mapuana,” “Lovely Hula Hands” and “Sweet Leilani” is heaven-sent.

Smith’s stroll-on as Sinatra is based on the premise that he’s vacationing in the islands with his then-wife Ava Gardner, who is in their hotel room as he visits the watering hole. This enables Smith to offer “Where or When,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “You Make Me Feel So Young” and — start spreading the news — “New York, New York.”

Round two in the nostalgia stroll finds Foy upholding the joys of “Waikiki,” joined by Kahoano and Degala on a collaborative “I’ll Remember You” and “I Am Hawaii,” and Foy and Degala saluting wedding celebrants and anniversary couples with “The Hawaiian Wedding Song.” Yes, the celebrants dance cheek-to-cheek, to make the Waikiki memory real.

The 80-minute show converts the lounge into an informal showroom, with Hawaii projects behind a minimalist stage. And P.J. Galarneau is “the orchestra” and he pays homage to the exotic franchise of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman including the hypnotic “Quiet Village.”

With its anchor at the Hale Koa, the show targets an appreciative military audience, which rises for a standing ovation, raising commotion and emotion aplenty. Locals may gain entrée as guests of military personnel, so if know or have a GI in the family, grab him (or her) and plan a trek to the Hale Koa. This could be a start of a new generation of show traditions in Waikiki.



When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays

Where: Warrior Lounge, Hale Koa Hotel

Cover charge: $25

Reservations: 531-4242,





Bo Irvine is host of "Kopy Katz"

Kimo Kahoano is Don Ho

Charles Degala is Alfred Apaka

Cathy Foy is Hilo Hattie


Photos by Wayne Harada

Bo Irvine is host of "Kopy Katz"

Bo Irvine is host of "Kopy Katz"

FullSizeRender (16)


Charles Degala as Alfred Ap;aka.

Charles Degala as Alfred Ap;aka.

Cathy Foy as Hilo Hattie.

Cathy Foy as Hilo Hattie.

Cathy Foy is Hilo Hattie

'For the Love of Jimmy' event raises more than $70,000

February 1st, 2016

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Performers at "For the Love of Jimmy" included Lucie Arnaz, Melveen Leed and Jimmy Borges himself.



“For the Love of Jimmy,” that fundraiser for entertainer Jimmy Borges, raised  more than $70,000 — surpassing its $50,000 goal  — at the gala last Saturday (Jan. 30) at the Westin Moana Surfrider  hotel.

And monies are still being tallied.

The evening was an outpouring of love and aloha for Borges, who has stage four terminal  lung cancer. He decided live out his life his way — without customary chemotherapy — and the journey has been a mix of good and bad days.

Happily, Borges was in high spirits Saturday, meeting and greeting and being photographed with an array of genuine fans, friends, family and notables, all sharing a common mission: to salute the master of his craft.

The show  — in the Banyan Court of the Moana Surfrider,  under a sprawling banyan tree and clear skies  — was a mixed bag of local performers capped by a Borges fan and friend from way back, Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of one of show biz’s iconic couples, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

The space, not commonly utilized for shows these days (‘twas the previous home of radio’s “Hawaii Calls,” the Tavana revue, then Tihati Productions’ Polynesian spectacle during Waikiki’s glorious show biz  era of the ‘60s to the ‘80s), made celebrants wonder why there haven’t been more events in recent times.

It was a fitting and cordial spot to show Borges how well he is adored and worshipped, and a salute intending to pump up monies to fulfill his last wish: to launch a University of Hawaii scholarship bearing his name, for future vocalists.

So it was a hearty party, a rainbow of aloha and styles to demonstrate how much Borges is adored.

The  take-away moment came early on, without warning.

Melveen Leed, who shelved her comedic antics and Hawaiian repertoire this night, opened the evening on a pop-jazz note, beginning with “Poor Butterfly.” She innocently sashayed into a bossa nova mood with “The More I See You,” segueing into “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” which prompted Borges — seated at a front table surrounded by family and supporters — to unexpectedly rise from his seat, head for the corner stage on the veranda of the restaurant area, to chime in with Leed.

Appropriately, “I Wish You Love” was the anthem of this rousing moment.  Weak on his feet but his heart filled with celebratory joy, Borges hung onto the veranda rail to share a see-sawing duet with Leed, who played along like a pro, sharing her segment with the honoree. With equal parts glee and concern, Borges had the savvy and the energy to deliver what surely might have been his final performance in a colorful and triumphant 60-year career.

He is 80, but the cancer — affecting his ability to breathe — means he has lost some of the steam steam as a belter.

But with this instance of genuine but unplanned honesty, he and Leed earned cheers and ovations, nullifying a late-in-the-show song Borges was to do. This was the right moment at the right time with the right emotions, and it was thoroughly impromptu, it was totally electrifying. It couldn’t have been scripted any better. For Leed, it was a triumph, too; so many admired her vocal prowess and discipline and charity, sharing her mike time and co-starring in this iconic highlight.

Willie K also adjusted his songlist to pay tribute to jazz and Borges, with a super duper performance emoting Ella Fitzgerald-like scat singing which brought down the house, too. When he indulged in “If I Didn’t Care,” the old Ink Spots classic, he validated  his fondness of blues and jazz, mimicking and saluting Nina Simone.

Oh yeah, Willie also was wildly operatic with a powerful “Nessun Dorma.”

Yvonne Elliman, widely associated with her Mary Magdalene connection with the concept album, Broadway musical and film version of  “Jesus Christ Superstar,” focused instead on her ‘70s repertoire, sharing sure bets like “If I Can’t Have You” from “Saturday Night Fever” and her Barbara Lewis cover-turned-hit “Hello, Stranger.”  For her, nostalgia ruled.

Taimane Gardner, a skilled and animated ukulele whiz, demonstrated her expressive and explosive strumming, a good spot for familiarizing her evolving brand with a local crowd. A former Don Ho “discovery,” she traditionally plays for visitor audiences so this was a nifty notch for her local creds.

Finally, Lucie Arnaz, a songstress of admirable eloquence and charm, capped the evening with a solid roster of American song standards, showing a parallel philosophy of Borges: utilizing songs to tell stories. From “Lulu’s Back in Town” to “The Tender Trap”  to “Until Now,” she breezed through a gamut of romantic paths: lasting connections, failures, eternal searches. Not jazzy, but grand and graceful.

And then to punctuate her adoration of the islands — she has been here a number of times over the decades — she dusted off the classic Hawaiian “Na Alii,” revealing she  researched its lyrics involving history and propriety, surprising the audience that she knew the Hawaiian lyrics which she delivered in contrasting pace and tempo, first with a the slow version and the show-stopping rapid-fire upbeat version.

The crowd howled delight.

As for the Borges scholarship donations, the funds will fuel the initial $300,000 committed to the Jimmy Borges Endowment Fun, to bolster and solidify a legacy for the ailing jazz singer. He simply wanted to leave something significant for a future generation of needy vocalists, so the plan is to award University of Hawaii scholarships to prospective singers, hopefully for a lifetime.

All “For the Love of Jimmy.”


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