Tihati Productions is planning a mammoth 50th anniversary gala, set for Dec. 14 at the Sheraton Waikiki ballroom. For the first time in the company’s history, four shows on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, each with Saturday evening performances. will deliberately go dark to enable 100 singers, dancers and musicians to perform en masse in the largest assembly of Tihati troupers, spread over three stages.
“It’s the first time ever that we’ll shut down like this,” said Afatia Thompson, Tihati president, who received consent from each venue. “We felt it was appropriate to bring together our ohana for this celebration.”
The last time multiple shows went dark was during the 9/11 terror attacks.
The golden anniversary will unite current and former Tihati cast members, performing trademark numbers of Samoa, Tahiti, Hawaii, Maori New Zealand, Rarotonga, Fiji and other South Seas ports, that define Tihati’s fabled, culturally genuine stable of mele (songs), oteas and aparimas (dances). The only thing missing will be the popular fire knife dance of Samoa, because fire marshal laws prohibit such indoor fire dances without safety nets.
The program, expected to draw 1,000 guests, will track the panorama of Tihati’s artistry and vision. Highlights:
>> Sol3 Mio, a New Zealand-based trio comprised of Samoan vocalists Moses Mackay, Pene Pati and Amitai Pati, known for their operatic arias and Broadway music.
>> Robert Cazimero, Amy Hanaiali‘i, Willie K and Fiji providing island music, with Billy V as emcee.
>> A script written by Misty Thompson Tufono, sister of Afatia, who is vice president of Tihati Productions, telling the story — then and now — of Hawaii and the world’s largest producers of Polynesian spectacles.
>> The launch of “The World of Tihati,” a book that tracks the legacy of Tihati Productions, led by co-founders Jack and Cha Thompson, and their storied history from humble 1969 beginnings through the transition of leadership to Afatia and Misty. Gala guests each will receive a copy of the book. (Disclosure: I co-authored the volume with my wife, Vi Harada.)
Afatia said “classic” numbers, representing the rich cultural tapestry that underscores the Tihati brand, is key to the gala pageantry.
“In my capacity, now that mom and pop have retired, Misty and Nicole (Afatia’s wife) are part of the family planners now. We need to keep the ears to the ground, the eyes on the horizon,” he said. “The challenge is not to be complacent, and take care of all of our shows, to keep them all at the highest levels, in the best condition.”
Besides co-founders Jack and Cha, only one cast member — Iele Eseroma — has been employed for five decades.
“It will be quite interesting to see that our repertoire has survived the generations, and that it’s still relevant after 50 years,” Afatia said. “Potentially, there will be mothers and daughters performing, and possibly grandfathers and grandsons, too.”
Tihati has a portfolio of 14 luau shows and about 1,500 employees statewide including office and warehouse personnel, a convention wing and technical staffs to run the shows.
“In the end, this is a celebration for half a century of what we love,” said Afatia.
Dad Jack started in the industry as a fire-knife dancer; mom Cha was a hula soloist.
Afatia’s grandiose plans to reunite the past with the present, with huge participation of troupers then and now, prompted his mom to label him “our Cecil B. DeMille,” a reference to the advocate of extravaganzas.
Jack and Cha are not expected to be in the performing cast. “They’ll sit it out,” said Afatia. “But if a musician is playing, mom will not hesitate to get up and hula, island-style.”
All proceeds from the anniversary event will be shared among three pet charitable organizations, the Hawaii Hotel Industry Foundation, Eli Thompson Scholarship Fund at Saint Louis School and the South Seas Christian Ministries.
And on a newsworthy note, the Thompson ohana was informed — in the midst of gala-planning — that Tihati’s longest-running (19 years) Oahu show, “Te Moana Nui” at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani showroom, was prematurely closing on Sept. 25. The abrupt closure attracted a contingent of former performers; “it was multigenerational,” said Afatia. “It was sort of a mini version of the mana and spirit of our night to come.”
The Princess Kaiulani hotel will be demolished, perhaps a year from now, then will rebuild on the site; the shuttering of the show was preceded by the earlier closure of the last surviving food and beverage entity poolside. It’s still operating as a hotel, however.
For gala reservations, call Tihati headquarters at 735-0292, ext. 0. …
“The Politician,” Ryan Murphy’s must-see-TV drama-comedy (streaming on Netflix), is a stunning, superb exploration of an ambitious Payton Hobart, a Santa Barbarian from a moneyed family with presidential aspirations. Ben Platt, who first earned notice as a secondary character in filmdom’s “Pitch Perfect” (1 and 2), was in Broadway’s original company of “The Book of Mormon,” then segued to his Tony Award-winning role as the titular character in “Dear Evan Hansen.”
At 26, he may seem too old to portray a high schooler, but he brings depth, charisma and authenticity to the dynamics of an over-ambitious youth with the will and savvy to achieve his goals. And bravo, he periodically sings, too! I saw him in both “Mormon” and “Hansen.” He brings energy and credibility to the stage — and screen. No wonder; his artistic father, Marc Platt, has produced “Into the Woods,” “Bridge of Spies,” “La La Land,” “Mary Poppins Returns,” “Aladdin” and the TV live-casts of “Grease,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Rent.” Upcoming flicks: “Wicked,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Oliver Twist” and “Dear Evan Hansen.”
A pair with island roots are in the “Politician” cast, too: B.K. Cannon appears as Chris in three segments and Bette Midler shows up once as Hadassah Gold. Yep, worth tuning in. …
And that’s “Show Biz.”
Wayne Harada is a veteran entertainment columnist. Reach him at 266-0926 or email@example.com.