Although the Local Divas don't plan to sing "My Heart Will Go On" Thursday, the lyrics of Celine Dion's 1988 mega-hit express their feelings perfectly. It will be the first time the Divas -- Melveen Leed, Carole Kai and Nohelani Cypriano -- have performed since Loyal Garner, the fourth founding member of the group, died two weeks ago.
For Carole Kai, Melveen Leed andGarner remembered
Nohelani Cypriano, Thursday's
show promises to be an emotional
tribute to their late, beloved
comrade in charms
By John Berger
"I think the audience will understand if at some point we just lose it and break down, but we're trying to be strong because we know it's what Loyal would want us to do. I know she's going to be with us there that night," Cypriano said Saturday during lunch with Leed and Kai at Mariposa, Garner's favorite restaurant. There was laughter, and a few misty moments, as they spoke of their experiences working with Garner over the past two years.
Garner had pet names for each of them. Kai was "Bebeh" ("Baby"). Cypriano was "Honey Girl." Leed was ...
"Eh, you," Leed said with a laugh. "No, she called me Mel."
Garner, the de facto leader of the all-star quartet, died Nov. 15 in the Queen's Medical Center after a long battle with cancer. She had continued to work with the others on the upcoming show even after she was hospitalized and it became apparent that she would not be able to perform with them. They kept her informed of their progress. She gave them advice, encouragement and instructions.
"She put together the whole structure of the show," Kai said. "She said, 'This show gotta move, it gotta pop. It has to be fun and full of song.' She wanted me to do this one song for my closer that I haven't done for 15 years, and I said, 'I can't do it.' She said, 'You're gonna do it.' I'm gonna do it."
The show -- "This One's For You, Loyal" -- had been planned as a fund-raiser that would help pay down Garner's medical expenses. Part of the proceeds will go to the Loyal Garner Medical Fund, but the show is now a tribute to her.
"We had to restructure some of the vocals, and it's going to be hard for me not looking over and seeing Loyal onstage, so I'm going to try to not look to my right, but we've been rehearsing a lot and we feel pretty confident," Cypriano said.
"In the two years we were together, Loyal taught us so much about rehearsing and vocal arrangements," said Cypriano, joining Leed and Kai in a beautiful a cappella rendition of "You Ku'uipo." "Even though she's not here, we're kind in the groove already," she said.
Earlier Divas shows always included solo segments for each singer. Garner will be seen in a video segment that is being assembled by Dirk Fukushima, Kai's partner in Hawaii Stars Presents. The Divas are also promising some surprises in addition to guest appearances by Mel Cabang and vocalist Kevin "Kevin I." Iwamoto.
Leed, long famous for her quick wit and over-the-edge one-liners, is particularly looking forward to working with Cabang. She says, though, that the show is ultimately about love.
"I'd like the audience to leave the show with the feeling that they not only were well entertained, but that they take with them a part of the feeling we have with Loyal. Loyal always exuded love, and we want them to take some of that love with them," Leed said.
Students of language know that the literal meaning of the word diva is "goddess," but that in recent years it has become a synonym for prima donna -- the principal female singer in an opera company, and, in the context of pop culture, an extremely sensitive, vain, egotistical or undisciplined female singer who expects everything to revolve around her.
The interplay between Leed, Kai and Cypriano as they talk about Garner and the upcoming show reveals no trace of such "diva" attitudes.
That's not to say that the local music scene doesn't have some women with diva egos. At least one egocentric female singer has already attempted to capitalize on Garner's death by touting herself as the obvious choice to join the group as Garner's replacement. The Divas decline to identify her, even off the record, and say that they have no plans to ever take on a new fourth member.
"No one can replace Loyal," Leed said.
No local female entertainers possess the mainstream pop showroom credentials to mesh with Leed, Kai and Cypriano anyway.
Cypriano credits Garner for taking the lead in forging a polished vocal quartet out of four individual solo stars.
"She was the thread," Kai said. The knowledge Garner shared with the other Divas will be certainly be carried forward in future shows. However, Kai notes, the show on Thursday will be the last one that Garner put together for them. "It's going to be something that's really a part of her."
"It'll be a special night for us," Cypriano said. "I think it's the most important show we'll ever do."
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Hawaii Ballroom, Sheraton Waikiki
Tickets: $28 to $50
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