Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, November 30, 2001

Holly golly Christmas tradition

By Tim Ryan

"A Merry Christmas with Friends and Nabors," a kind of Hawaii version of Radio City Music Hall's Christmas program, is celebrating its fifth anniversary today through Sunday, starring some of the same luminaries who began this local tradition, nand dozens of kids.

"This event is a family thing, for families, and performed like a family," says the show's star and perennial nice guy Jim Nabors. "Everyone connected with it has become close over the five years and a lot of these kids have grown up in front of all of us."

As much as the show is about the return notables like Karen Keawehawai'i and Emma Veary, it is equally about the dozens of children singers and dancers who create the fabric of a very special Christmas program, he said.

Jim Nabors flashing the shaka.

Of the 120-plus performers, a majority are under 17, including 40 keiki from the 6-year-old Diamond Head Shooting Stars children's performing group.

Performing in the Nabors' and Honolulu Symphony's Christmas show is "the jewel in our crown," said Shooting Stars' director John Rampage.

"For the kids it's an incredible experience because they're working with top professional people in a professional environment that requires a professional attitude," Rampage said.

The Shooting Stars have learned to work in all types of venues from banquet rooms to concert halls, Rampage said. At the Hawaii Theatre event, the group is crammed into two small upstairs rooms for costume changes and makeup.

"They have to be organized and quiet," Rampage said. "They have to behave like adults.

"Being in Shooting Stars means having to give up all their Saturdays for the 12 weeks of each semester," he said. "We started on these numbers in August, and two weeks out we rehearse almost every night.

"The kids learn this is not a hobby and that they're one cog in a very large wheel; being cute and talented doesn't make you the star of the show."

Carolee Nishi's Hula Hui O Kapunahala O Nu'uanu also has been performing in the show since its 1997 beginning.

'A Merry Christmas with Friends and Nabors'

Starring Jim Nabors and featuring Frank Dilima, Phil Huber & the Huber Marionettes, Karen Keawehawai'i, Emma Veary, the Diamond Head Shooting Stars, Chinky Mahoe's Halau Hula 'O Kawaili'ula, Carolee Nishi's Hula Hui O Kapunahala O Nu'uanu, the St. Peter's Church Choir and the Prince Kuhio Hawaiian Civic Club Chorale

When: 7:30 p.m. today and tomorrow; 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.

Tickets: $40 to $50; $5 per ticket discount for Hawaii Theatre Center members; Honolulu Symphony Subscribers; 62 and older; youths 17 and under; students and military with valid ID; 1/2 price "Rush Tickets" for seniors, youth, students and military on day of performance only, in person at the Hawaii Theatre box office only, based on availability.

Call: 528-0506

Though Nabors and co-producer Judy Murata make some changes each year, they also stick with the "tried and true" essentials for Christmas programs with some small surprises.

"You have to do the favorites like 'White Christmas' and 'Silent Night' and now people expect to hear Emma and Karen and the symphony, but this year we also have Frank (DeLima) for some added pizzazz," said Nabors who declined talking about the opening "surprise, surprise, surprise."

Nabors, 71, who has been in some 300 films, recorded 38 albums and performed in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe for more than 40 years, has promised to slow down professionally. He has no plans to sell his historic Diamond Head beachfront home as he had once planned.

"I'm a man of many parts, a lot of them new, like a liver (from a transplant), a pace maker, not to mention having had a stroke," Nabors said, smiling. "Hawaii is where I want to be; I will never leave."

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