Gridiron 2015, put on by Hawaii’s press corps, public relations pros and supporters, poses the question "Is nothing sacred?" And the answer is a resounding "no." Not even Mauna Kea — or at least the controversy over construction of a 30-meter telescope atop the summit of the Big Island volcano.
Any worries the biennial fundraiser for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Hawaii Chapter would veer into safe territory amid the prevailing hyper-sensitive atmosphere of political correctness were quickly dispelled after the opening song-and-dance number at Wednesday’s dress rehearsal at Diamond Head Theatre. In confronting a small group of scientists, Bill Sage led a group of angry Hawaiians — including a padded Jason Momoa stand-in — in the protest song "Kapu Aloha (You Frickah #2)," set to the tune of the Ka’au Crater Boys’ "Kawika":
"You tell us when you’re building, what did you think we would do? How come you act all surprise when we show up and blocking you? If it’s only 30 meters can somebody tell me why, that the building you going put ‘um in is 18 stories high. That’s really frickin’ high."
The first real belly laughs erupted when Mahealani Richardson pranced around the stage as self-absorbed, mirror-obsessed Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, singing "It’s All About My Face," a takeoff of the Meghan Trainor hit. Other first act highlights: Zachary Creech as pro golfer Robert Allenby in, "The Man Down Under," borrowing from Men at Work, to rip the Australian’s misadventures on Kapiolani Boulevard; and Jocelyn Cua-Racoma, Esme Infante and Lance Rae as a homeless trio happily crooning "Sand Island, Here We Come," set to the "Green Acres" theme song. (Sample lyrics: "Sand Island is the place for me; hot meals and a place to pee. Life in a box — what luxury! Forget that tent, I want to live hassle-free.")
Colette Pritchard Fox and the first-rate Gridiron Band, led by musical director Roslyn Catracchia, gave new Health Department rules the Disney treatment in "Does Your Restaurant Have a Green Pass?" based on the "Snowman" song from "Frozen." ("I really wanted ramen, but I think I saw one of the noodles squirm. Does you restaurant have a green pass? … OK, bye.")
The funniest Gridiron numbers traditionally are those that skewer individual newsmakers, and it was no different in the 2015 edition, titled "On Time and On Budget." Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi’s pCard shenanigans earned him not one song but a medley, featuring such tunes as Shaggy’s "It Wasn’t Me," "Let’s Hear it for Kenoi," and "Billy Kenoi, You One Bad Boy," taken from "Fish and Poi."
The second act saw cranky one-term Gov. Neil Abercrombie (Chad Blair) and fellow election losers Mufi Hannemann (Ben Gutierrez on stilts), Duke Aiona (Chance Gusukuma) and Jeff Davis (Creech) lamenting their defeat to "mild-mannered" David Ige despite his "soft Muppet voice, no sex appeal."
A leather-jacket-and-sunglasses-wearing Ige (vocal powerhouse Kristopher De La Cruz) responded with biker swag in "I’m Governor," based on "Greased Lightning" from the movie "Grease." ("You know they said I’m crazy but I won to their dismay. Second time since statehood the governor’s an AJA.")
Gordon Pang and Scott Ishikawa scored with "Crappy," a takedown of the University of Hawaii’s men’s basketball and football programs based on Pharrell Williams’ "Happy." (All you need to know about the lyrics is in the title.)
Also in the Gridiron crosshairs: rail, Kakaako’s condo boom, the UH Cancer Center, the Hawaiian hoary bat, the Matson molasses spill, the ZipperLane freeway fiasco and Halau Lokahi charter school in Kalihi, which was shut down due to financial misconduct. For the latter target, Gutierrez, with Pang on nose flute, chanted the outrageous tale of "He Noa No Mo Charter School" as hula dancers Richardson, Moani Wright-Van Alst and Anna Gomes pantomimed the massages, acupuncture and aromatherapy school officials paid for with public money.
Also present and accounted for was professional stage performer and Gridiron ringer Cathy Foy, who was thwarted at times — as were other cast members — by microphone glitches that hopefully will be worked out in time for Thursday’s opening night.
More amusing than bust-a-gut hilarious for the most part, Gridiron 2015 offered two must-see attractions: Slick videos of hall-of-famers Donalyn Dela Cruz kickin’ it with her "local like a bowl o’ Zippy’s chili" impression of clog-wearing Colleen Hanabusa, and Dan Cooke nailing it as ex-Gov. Linda Lingle, who appears against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline wearing a heavy coat — until she transforms into Elsa from "Frozen" to sing "Off I Go." Big props to the videographers and editors.
The Hanabusa segment, "I’m Not Done (Upstart Senate Punk)," is virtually a shot-for-shot re-creation of the music video for Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s megahit "Uptown Funk," with the ex-congresswoman and her Hanabusettes getting in their shots at U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who was initially appointed to the post by Abercrombie even though the late Sen. Daniel Inouye reportedly tapped Hanabusa as his successor. (Watch for a surprise cameo!)
Please post these two videos on YouTube now.
The complexity and polish of the eye-popping production numbers are a tribute choreographers Ahnya Chang and Gomes, and Keoki Kerr and Robbie Dingeman are to be lauded again for keeping the Gridiron tradition alive and well.
As is always the case with the Gridiron, many of the lyrics and punchlines are lost under the music or chorus. But for $10 you can buy a songbook to learn the words to such songs as "Slimy Bubbles," about the "copalating " endangered tree snails that stalled repairs to Hawaii Public Radio’s Waianae relay station.
And if you didn’t snap up tickets to this weekend’s four sold-out shows, get your hands on one of the souvenir programs featuring biting artwork by Honolulu Star-Advertiser cartoonist Dave Swann and witty ads by the good-sport sponsors. UH, an endless source of Gridiron fodder over the years, wins this year for its simple ad stating: "Dear media, You’re welcome! Sincerely, the University of Hawai’i."