History can be a tough sell in Waikiki. Kathy Paulo did a beautiful one-woman show about Ainahau, the long-since-demolished home of Princess Kaiulani. While the show brought some visitors to tears with images of the concrete jungle now in place there, it didn’t last long.
Roy Tokujo tried twice to share the history of Waikiki in "Waikiki Nei" without whitewashing the facts or offending visitor industry power brokers. He failed both times.
‘RETURN TO WAIKIKI’
» Where: International Market Place
Makana should do much better sharing the history of Hawaiian music in his ambitious new dinner show, "Return to Waikiki."
One of the show’s memorable moments is when Makana’s bassist, the charismatic Lono Kaumeheiwa, explains why he pushed for the group to do "Malia My Tita." The story doesn’t sound like scripted patter about a tourist show staple, but rather a musician’s honest feelings about a favorite song.
The history angle gets brought into the show thanks to "Auntie Niele," a character played by steel guitarist Buck Giles in the transvestite style pioneered by Booga Booga in the ’70s. Auntie comes out and tells Makana to stop playing "slack rock" music and play old-style Hawaiian music instead.
Makana explains to the audience that old-style Hawaiian music was originally percussion and chant. The history begins with a video clip of a Hawaiian chanter providing the accompaniment for male hula kahiko representative of pre-contact Hawaii. It continues with songs representing the contributions of missionaries, Heinrich "Henri" Berger, Tin Pan Alley, Andy Cummings and Gabby Pahinui.
Berger’s musical legacy deserves more than a snare drum solo, but Cummings’ "Only Ashes Remain" is a remarkable showcase for Makana as a singer. He also distinguishes himself vocally with "I’ll Remember You" and a passionate solo performance of "Waikiki."
There are other highlights. The interaction among Makana, Kaumeheiwa and percussionist Richard Marquez on "Koi" is as interesting visually as it is musically.
Slack key is demystified when Makana demonstrates the different sounds of standard and slack-key tuning. Another number gives him the chance to show off with fast and flashy moves.
Giles, George Lopez (acoustic bass/vocals) and Jace Saplan (acoustic piano) expand the range and entertainment value of the show. Saplan is essential in presenting the musical tradition of himeni (Christian hymns) and gets a well-deserved solo on "Malia My Tita." Kaumeheiwa also plays Hawaiian nose flute; Giles doubles on percussion.
Florence Iwalani Koanui joins the guys twice for comic hulas. The second is much more risque than the first.
The biggest problem is the pre-show entertainment with Auntie Niele (Giles) and Sonny Shores (Makana) as deejays playing old-time Hawaiian and hapa-haole songs. Neither can be heard clearly over the music, and they spend far too much time talking over the songs they’re playing. The entire concept needs rethinking and a thorough rewrite.
On the other hand, the food lives up to expectations: kalua pig, steamed fish, barbecue chicken, chunky lomilomi salmon — and an entire roast pig. Many residents will want double servings of crunchy pig skin and two containers of poi.
Because of the ticket prices, this isn’t a show many residents will want to check out on a whim, but for special occasions or for entertaining out-of-town guests, it is an excellent alternative to Polynesian revues and Waikiki’s other familiar showroom attractions.