Regaling and remembering the new and old Marketplace

August 30th, 2016



The newly opened and reimagined International Market Place, in the heart of Waikiki, surely will be equally ballyhooed and booed. It’s grand, it’s gorgeous, it’s about time. Yet its relevance and reception will be determined as folks discover what it offers in the weeks and months ahead.

On the plus side, it boasts 75 shops (50 or so already operating) brightly positioned in a three-level open-air mini-mall that takes advantage of our summery Hawaii weather. In other words, no AC, unless you’re in a shop or eatery. Restaurants are situated on the third level, but they are largely pricey yet precious additions; the jury’s still out on whether locals will be open to tasting and embracing their riches. Luxury costs.

Happily, the shops are meticulously placed around the historic 160-year old banyan tree, with an updated tree house, removing the dark, gangly creepiness of the aging beauty with a savvy reno. The tree stands tall, but altered, in the pristine new neighborhood and it simply magnifies the glory of the IMP, which is how marketers refer to the destination. Not the best of acronym for a mighty grand lady.

On the negative side, there’s apparently no regular showcase for a budding or a proven musical act, to share his/her artistry to patrons in the shopping/dining destination. In days of old, there was the iconic Duke Kahanamoku’s, the launching pad for then-newbie Don Ho, who evolved and became a national and international ambassador and treasure of Hawaiian-style music and partying. Remember “I’ll Remember You,” “Suck ‘em Up,” “One Paddle, Two Paddle,” “Lahainaluna,” and “Ain’t No Big Thing”? It all started here. Remember Cock’s Roost, Canton Puka and Don the Beachcomber? Each had resident acts, to complement the shopping and the and enhance noshing and drinking.

Happily, Hawaiian music is not passé in the International Market Place, which has enlisted Tihati Productions, the state’s premier creator of things Hawaiian and Polynesian, to provide a nightly serenade and performance at dusk, coincidentally in the piko (Hawaiian for center, and also bellybutton) of the IMP: the Queen’s Court, one of three pivotal zones in the center’s history (one other being the Banyan Court, on the Kalakaua side of entry, and the third, the Mauka Court, on the Kuhio Avenue side). For now, the 30-minute show, with photo ops and all, begins at 6:30 p.m. but times will change with the seasons.

The show, a snapshot with narrative, vocals and dancers of the history of the site and the royals (Queen Emma and King Kamehamea IV, who lived here), is in a curious position. It is the lone regular entertainment element, in the heart of the IMP; it attempts to explain the little-known facts about the location, via oli and hula between snippets of shared historical knowledge. It’s the kind of a show that requires a sit-down, soak-it-all-in audience, what with its sometimes wordy academics, so a lot is lost, or not found, for folks who are either traipsing by or sipping beverages from koa rocking chairs on both second decks overlooking the Queen’s Court. Simply put, the handfuls of oval stools (which look like dinosaur eggs from afar) or the benches on the corridors, aren’t engaging enough to sustain a listening, involved crowd. Too far away, for one thing. Sure, the grassy space mighjt work for families with refreshments to nibble, set against that precious water element behind. This is clearly a work in progress; how to capture a crowd with an ensemble (a cast that will alternate over time, not a “name” attraction) of a host who sings and dancers providing precisely the kind of aloha and artistry under the radar in Waikiki.

There is one literal walk-on worthy of mention: Leilani Kahoano makes a brief entrance decked out in a flowing Queen Emma-replica gown, but she neither sings or dances. It’s a happening that will build with time, but its existence, combined with the passionate historical relevance, needs to be nurtured and tweaked to attract viewers and listeners stay for the pageantry, the way a Disneyland/Disneyworld mini-show draws throngs at the precise appointed time.

I attended a preview opening, when Hawaii stars like Jake Shimabukuro, Willie K and Raiatea Helm took turns in the limelight — each a worthy ambassador of the changing spectrum of island music, each playing for a manini crowd. There were hundreds of invitees this particular night, but the action focused on tastings menus at the third-level restaurant zone. When food competes with music, food often wins. Attention to and appreciation of these local luminaries were sorrowfully lacking.

If there is a star headliner of the IMP, it’s gotta be the first Saks Fifth Avenue on the Kuhio end of the property. It’s a clear indication and a beacon of hope that a high-end anchor might generate buzz from some first-time local visitors, along with national and global customers who know the brand. But bargain hunters will have to look elsewhere for trinkets once hawked from shabby carts and, shamelessly, manufactured not in Hawaii but in ports producing ‘em on the cheap.

I remember the time when a Woolworth’s adjacent to the IMP also sold affordable tikis and key chains and curios and aloha attire; stuff that became omiyage when visitors returned home. After it shut down, the carts proliferated, creating a tacky new culture that some folks now miss. Cheap has a following.

New is nice, yes, but some old IMP traditions live only in memory: those overhead lauhala fans, see-sawing over the audience, at Duke’s, where you’d watch Don Ho and order Mai Tais served in Suck ‘em Up glasses you would take home (I still have a few in my kitchen nook); the Crazy Shirts booth that launched a popular T-shirt label, that happily, is reborn in the center’s return; the food court for cheap-eats lunches or dinners, like beef stew and rice and chow mein with walnut shrimp; entertainment by the Surfers group, singing Hawaiian and pop, at Canton Puka; the Elvis Presley “museum” shop on the second level, with mementos linked to the King of Rock, competing with a plethora of Coke-related collectibles; and yes, even the earliest glimpse of Bruno Mars (who then was the Littlest Elvis), performing with his dad’s do-wop group, the Love Notes, at the adjacent Imperial Hawaii Hotel.

Remember? How can you forget. ...



'Kopy Katz 2' has a glamor cat, but requires some fixing

July 22nd, 2016

Derek Daniels glams it up as Prince Hanalei; Charles Degala is Alfred Apaka, Cathy Foy is Hilo Hattie

katz1 katz2





“Waikiki Kopy Katz,” relocated to Treetops Restaurant in Manoa Valley but returning in the future to the Hale Koa Hotel, adds new island legends to the roster in spacious venue accessible to Honolulu audiences.

Alas, the results are mixed .

The revue intends to salute newsmakers, now all deceased,  on the show biz front from the Waikiki landscape of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. This nostalgic endeavor — call it "Kopy Katz 2" — gets lively and robust with the addition of the glam and gay Prince Hanalei, performed by local dancer-choreographer Derek Daniels, with plumes and feathers galore, with shimmying and twirling a-plenty. He's visually a glamor Kat and the one to see in this outing.

Decked in flamboyant Tahitian headgear and costumed in sparkly leotards accented by feather décor (and notice the blue lipstick), Daniels is the essence of the “South Sea Island Magic” he prances to. But he takes liberties; on another number with a chorus of five hula girls dubbed the Manoa Dancers, he does a hula about mountains and waters, depicting Mother Nature’s charms. But there’s a cultural clash here: the hula, which is Hawaiian, is performed in essentially what is a Tahitian outfit. May not be a big deal among causal viewers, but another hula later in the show, Daniel donned aloha attired accented by a lei and white trousers, and was a lot more legit and eye-appealing. Tradition matters.

Also new to the roster is Johnny Kai as Don Ho, clad in dark glasses peering from beneath a floppy hat. Kai needs to perfect his Ho impression — a slur here, a mumble there — and attempt to recreate the sound that is globally revered as Mr. Waikiki’s. Worse, Kai does his Ho shtick on floor level, fronting the elevated stage, with a bright spotlight yielding a stark image that again doesn’t quite elevate the salute Ho deserves. Kai can make his entrance from the floor amid darkness, but Ho deserves  bigness  and brightness — on stage, maybe with a prop like a drinking glass to toast during “Tiny Bubbles.” And since there’s a sing-along with the audience on “Pearly Shells,” the action should definitely move to stage center. With fitting illumination.

Marshall Kaniho debuts as Martin Denny on keyboards, more as an accessory than a headliner, but his cheerfulness at least brings personality to his impresh. But where is the “Quiet Village,” with gongs and birdcalls and exotic sound effects, that made Denny a sensation?

Otherwise the show is capable hands. Cathy Foy, utilizing a new hand mike for the first time, needs to distance her mouth from the mike, to eliminate an echo-ey sound effect through her Hilo Hattie tribute. When she delivers the hip hop on “Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop,” the prevalent pink/red jell on the spotlight is intrusive and artificial; better to go brightly, without the color effect. Adjustments will upgrade this entire segment.

Charles Degala excels as the beloved baritone, Alfred Apaka, notably on “Sweet Leilani.” His costume is spot-on, too — red lei and red sash, contrasting the white shirt and trousers. Just what we all remember.

And incidental Hawaii visitor Frank Sinatra (capably interpreted by Randy Smith) easily was the evening’s most suave figure in nifty black-tux (and later with white jacket), especially on his swing-ding “New York, New York” and “Fly Me to the Moon.”

The show opens with a trio of Andrew Sisters-type performers clad in military khaki, but only Foy sang “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” which is awkward because the gals are gyrating but minus the 1940s harmony characterizing the ditty made famous by the sisters and eventually became a signature for Bette Midler. In its present form, the number doesn't deliver.

And emcee Bo Irvine was off in timing and thinking. The stand-up comic generlly is a funny soul, but did some missteps on opening night, including a gaffe when he mentioned Sinatra’s wife as Eva Gabor when it should have been Ava Gardner. This is a fixable moment — and surely, veteran entreprenuer Jack Cione, who conceived and directed "Kopy Katz," has already summoned  a rehearsal to make amends. The show is set to run three more Thursdays, through Aug. 11.




When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, through Aug. 11, 2016

Where: Treetops Restaurant, Manoa Valley

Cost: $48.50 includes buffet dinner and show (buffet from 6 p.m.)

Reservations: 988-6838


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Taimane: Reaching for the stars, performing like one

March 27th, 2015



7 to 10 p.m. Saturday (March 28),

Bishop Museum lawn and planetarium



For her latest CD, Taimane Gardner reaches for the stars for inspiration and shines like one as a result.

The disc is entitled “We Are Made of Stars” (Taimane Gardner 213), being formally launched Saturday at a CD release party at Bishop Museum.

She may not yet be a true household name, but visitors have seen and heard Taimane, as she is billed, since her ukulele and vocal artistry have been widely exposed in performances with the late Don Ho as a featured act, and also at Waikiki hotels like the Hyatt Regency  Waikiki where she strums her trusty ukulele as a soloist.

This self-produced CD looms as her ticket to stardom — her most creative effort to date and one in which most of her compositions are inspired by what’s out there.

Ambitious is the defining word here; Taimane explores elements from the universe to shape and mold her melodies.  The key: Performing the melodies as stand-alone tunes for her live performances. That’s to say, within the context of the album, she has fashioned a concept disc with credibility, merit and invention. The skies and stars have long had an impact on Hawaiians, from navigators to worshippers, so why not a musician as well? But will they stand up outside of the concept album?

Her style and creativity would prevail on terra firma,  for sure, and there’s no reason why a female ukester can’t make the charts. Homegrown sensation Jake Shimabukuro made it on his own terms, and Taimane can also take flight.

The sky’s the limit, so “Jupiter” — one of the most energetic tracks here —is quite the instrumental jam, with choral riffs, and richly flashy without being showy.

“Mars” also is dazzling amongf  the finds. Her ukulele style is well served here, with alternately simple and sizzling strumming. Wordless, she lets her fingers do all the talking and the dancing — but the song also features Tahitian lyrics and chanting.

Similarly, “Mercury” is a vivid and sparkling excursion with nimble and contagious strumming that has become her forte.

There’s a mix of different languages here and there — Japanese, Hawaiian, Native American — on  “Mother Earth,” a Hawaiian mele with requisite chant format and syncopation, with Dr. Pualani Kanahele featured amid a familiar “E Ala E” chant and the evergreeb Japanese “Sakura” tune.

For contrast, examine “Father Sky,” softer in tone and delivery, with quiet nobility and dignity.

Overall, it’s all spacey but satisfying. It's time to fully welcome Taimane to the galaxy of greats.

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Review: Memories aplenty in John Rowles' Honolulu homecoming

October 25th, 2014

Haumea Ho, widow of Don Ho, did a hula to “I’ll Remember You” while John Rowles sang the Kui Lee tune last night (Oct. 24) at Blaisdell Concert Hall. johnrowles

It was one of those special moments in Rowles’ first return engagement here in more than 30 years. He was in his 20s at the time.

Rowles, of course, performed at Ho’s hangout, Duke Kahanamoku’s, in the heyday of Waikiki celebrityhood.

Now 67, Rowles, the Maori sensation who also gigged at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room and the Outrigger Hotel Main Showroom,  has matured gracefully. He sports white hair now, just like the snows of Mauna Kea at wintertime; his baritone has the essence of aged wine at its best.

He still has vigor and versatility and he revisited his Waikiki days with a clutch of songs associated with his then-budding career. Of course, “Cheryl Moana Marie,” penned for the youngest of his five sisters, became his signature and the tune, with Rowles’ still-powerful pipes, earned hurrahs and cheers when he sang it.

Rowles, happily, has not forgotten his island ties. He credited composer-poet Jay Larrin for one of his other popular adopted tunes, “The Snows of Mauna Kea,” bringing his deep baritone notes to new altitudes of bliss.

Backed by the Elvis Presley TCB (Taking Care of Business) Band, much of Rowles’ repertoire included a string of Presley hits, but he often put his own vocal imprint on the tune. Like, “Love Me Tender” was perfectly delivered in a subdued, unflashy mode, with Rowles accompanying himself on guitar. With the right exposure at the right moment, it’s a version that could easily connect with today’s younger audience, who many not (yikes, there are many of ‘em) know the EP original.

The TCB Band  is comprised of James Burton, guitar; Ronnie Tutt, drums; Glen D. Hardin, piano; and Norbert “Put” Putnam; they backed The King in the historic “Aloha From Hawaii” concert at Blaisdell Arena (then the Hawaii International Center),  and they’ve been an essential and under-appreciated combo in the annals of rock music.

So it was a no-brainer that the group provided the Presley-quality backup on titles such as “Hound Dog,” “In the Ghetto,” “The Wonder of You,”  “That’s All Right” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”

In a touching moment, “How Great Thou Art,” a secular favorite from the Presley library, Rowles mixed in Maori lyrics without sacrificing sentiment, projecting the universality of the hymn.

No, his was not a tribute –to-Elvis show. It was accentuating the bandsmanship of a historic backup band, with the vocalry of a prevailing Kiwi star, in an out-of-town “opening” preceding a planned tour of New Zealand and Australia in the months ahead.

Rowles was relaxed and playful with the sparse  but loyal audience. And happily, he didn’t forget the fabulous formative years of his launch in the islands. He dropped a few names, like Coronado Aquino, who was the longtime maître d’ at the Monarch Room; he acknowledge his then-peers in the house, from Melveen Leed to Al Harrington; he even shared an original composition, “The Girl in White,” about a fan he regularly spotted in the Pink Palace showroom. And yes, he remembered Kimo McVay, the late entrepreneur who was a mover-and-shaker in Rowles’ Hawaii presence.

Of course, his homage to Ho was expected. After all, he guested in Ho’s palace in the International Market Place. The invitation for Haumea, the entertainer’s wife, was a natural link to the past — and a passage to the present.

He said he’ll never forget his Hawaii ties; he even did a quick haka move, complete with tongue action and staccato body moves.

Clearly, he and his fans mutually had a grand time. Rowles was sure to widen his appeal with potent ballads like “If I Only Had Time” and “My Way.”

It sounded like if he had his way, he’d return to his island paradise someday.

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Misalucha finale is Saturday; what’s the impact in Waikiki?

August 27th, 2012

An eight-month run of the Lani Misalucha Show at the Magic of Polynesia showroom comes to an end this Saturday (Sept. 1).
This, amid rumors of its impending closure and a Waikiki nightlife climate that has not reached expected attendance expectations.
This does not bode well for nightlife in Waikiki, where showrooms are few and attractions are dimming. The “star” marquee era — think Don Ho — is gone with his death.
And with Misalucha leaving the nighttime mainstream, there will be one less place to go and be entertained.
“This is a very tough decision for us,” said Percy Higashi, president and chief operating officer for Roberts Hawaii, the producer of the Misalucha show. The intent was to expose her stellar talent in a second-show slot of the Magic of Polynesia showroom at the Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel.
“Lani is a phenomenal singer and entertainer, and we’ve received countless comments from guests who absolutely loved her show,” Higashi said in a press release. “Unfortunately, our experience is in line with what HTA (the Hawaii Tourism Authority) has been telling us, that while visitor counts may be rising, many travelers to Hawaii remain very budget-conscious and are holding back on their spending.”
Misalucha, a superstar in the Philippines who previously earned awards in the Las Vegas hemisphere while featured with the Hawaii-based Society of Seven, led by Tony Ruivivar. Her vocal prowess —rock to opera, pop to Broadway, impressions of show biz divas — made her a perfect fit for the SOS. But she went solo and eventually was wooed by Roberts Hawaii, a tour and transportation company, to headline her own Lani Misalucha Show that was launched last December and rebooted with a “Return to Paradise” billing about a month ago to lure visitors with a more tropical pitch.
While initial numbers were encouraging, attendance has been sluggish in recent months.
“Hawaii has become like my second home, and will always have a special place in my heart,” said Misalucha in a statement. “I’d like to thank Roberts Hawaii and all the wonderful people of Hawaii for their support.”
Because the Las Vegas-style showroom still has a resident star in magician John Hirokawa, it will continue to operate seven nights a week in the early hours.
The lights-off in the after-show hours means one less performance venue along the Kalakaua Avenue strip.
You recall, all major hotels had showrooms in the heyday of mainstream Waikiki entertainment in the 1970s and ’80s. Hyatt shut down its showroom in favor of leased commercial space; Hilton eliminated its famous Dome to built a more profitable high rise, and removed the Tapa Room for the same reason; the Royal Hawaiian relinquished the entertainment spotlight in its Monarch Room, making higher profits with special events like weddings, though tried mid-week special shows that failed to attract locals to sustain the experiment; the Moana removed Polynesian entertainment in its storied beachfront area beneath the banyan tree, for cocktail ambience for veranda patrons in recent decades; the Polynesian Palace on Lewers gave way for a hotel remake and the ultimate launch of Waikiki Beach Walk.
And you remember Don Ho; he was the big-name headliner at Duke Kahanamoku’s, now only a memory, unless you count his oversized statue on Waikiki Beach. Ho was able to shuttle from one showroom to another — the Hilton Dome, the Polynesian Palace, that second-level downsized club at the Beachcomber, which now is leased space for Jimmy Buffett’s franchise.
And the Outrigger, which still has a fading showroom with a bright history, is struggling to nail a deal with new owner prospects to keep the doors open. Otherwise, another showroom will bite the dust.
The other key showrooms in Waikiki are the Ainahau at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, where a Tihati Polynesian production has been in residency for decades; and the rooftop venue above the parking structure, where the Hilton produces a Tihati-created spectacular. A “showroom” that isn’t is that Monday-only high-end but exquisite Hawaiian show, on the green lawn outside the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian, still another show with the Tihati stamp.
Oh, yes; the Royal Hawaiian Showroom, previously Level 4 and a showcase for a short-lived "Hawaii Nei" show, is supposed to be the anchor showroom at the Royal Hawaiian Center. It now is home to the "Legends" impersonation revue, which, like Misalucha's show, opened last December. "Legends" also is fighting for its share of the visitor/local pie, but it's also been a struggle; the big numbers have been somewhat elusive.
Misalucha’s numbers were inadequate because the show failed to generate visitor tour groups, that apparently wanted more Polynesian elements; hence, the “Return to Paradise” effort.
All is not lost for Misalucha, who is said to be seeking and getting some local and international bookings. But a full-time opportunity is gone.
Rumors persist that staff from one Waikiki hotel has been scrutinizing her show for possible two- or three-night bookings to keep her anchored in Waikiki.
“We considered a slew of other alternatives, but given its substantial production expense (singers, dancers, musicians), continuing the show was not a healthy option,” said Higashi.

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