Star-Bulletin Features

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Friends Karen Keawehawaii, left, and Emma Veary
join Jim Nabors in three concerts with
the Honolulu Symphony.

Naborly again

Entertainer Jim Nabors,
happy to have his health back,
sings for the home crowd

By Tim Ryan

JIM Nabors is beaming with that trademark lopsided grin.

"Hi, how are ya?" he says to several people at the Hau Tree Lanai, where the actor-singer lunches regularly.

"Good to see ya.

"Golleeee, we keep running into one another, don't we?

"Oh man," Nabors says, sitting down at his usual oceanfront table. "What a beautiful day! Sure's great to be alive, isn't it?"

Three years ago this month Nabors wasn't sure how many more great days he would see. He looked awful, was losing lots of weight, and his skin tone was yellow. It seems that Gomer Pyle's liver was shutting down from an infection Nabors got in India a decade earlier.

Arriving in Branson, Mo., on Thanksgiving for a concert, the disheveled Nabors was mistaken for a street person when he wandered into a Salvation Army post for a bowl of soup.

"Seems like a millions years ago," Nabors said, sipping iced tea and eating a husky hamburger with a mountain of french fries. "It sure's good to still be alive."

Nabors, who declares he's in "semi-retirement," this year performed more than two dozen concerts around the country, mostly with symphonies and special events. None in Hawaii.

Then earlier this year he was approached by Sarah Richards of the Hawaii Theatre and Michael Tiknis, executive director of the Honolulu Symphony, to do a concert. Nabors suggested performing with the Symphony at the Hawaii Theatre in "a full-on theatrical production."

"The Symphony was trying to start some sort of Christmas production that would be done annually using all local talent," Nabors said. "I thought that was a great idea."

So came the genesis of "A Merry Christmas with Friends and Nabors," a two-hour production tomorrow and Saturday at the Hawaii Theatre featuring Nabors, Emma Veary, Karen Keawehawaii, the Hawaii Vocal Arts Ensemble, the Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus' Na Leo Kuhookahi, and Diamond Head Theatre's Shooting Stars.

Nabors, who's just completed a five-day engagement in Las Vegas, insists he's not the star of the show but "the focal point, the spring board."

Some of the songs Nabors will sing include "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Do You Hear What I Hear?" "Some Children See Him," "White Christmas," "Panis Angelicus" and duets with Keawehawaii on "One of You" and with Veary on "Silent Night." The three will sing a medley of traditional Christmas carols.

Why did he choose Veary and Keawehawaii?

"Both are good friends, and I've sung with them several times," Nabors said. "We're a good fit and that's the basis of the show: friends and Nabors.

"This isn't a concert in the strict sense. There's a theme where people who come out to sing are tied together with the children's choral groups. It's what Christmas is all about."

Nabors, Tiknis and Richards hope to keep the annual production all-Hawaii in its casting.

"Right now, we're just feeling our way," Nabors said, "but believe me, this is going to be impressive."

Nabors' reluctance to perform in his home state has to do with ensuring a quality product, not with making money. He's waiving his fee for the Hawaii concerts.

"It's harder to do a concert where you live because you want to be really good," he said. "When I was opening the (Hilton Hawaiian Village) Dome I was worried sick whether the show would work and if anyone would even show up."

Nabors doesn't need the aggravation of performing and apparently doesn't need the money either. He owns a historic beachfront home near Black Point - it had been on the market for $10 million; a macadamia nut farm in Hana, Maui; a lodgelike residence in Whitefish, Mont.; and a townhome in Los Angeles. And he's just bought a newer, faster plane for his frequent jaunts to the neighbor islands.

Most importantly, he says, "My health is excellent."

But for the rest of his life, Nabors must undergo once a month drug injections to ensure his liver remains infection free. The injection takes eight hours and, up until now, the treatment was only done in Los Angeles. However, Nabors plans to begin treatment here at St. Francis Hospital.

"My guys at UCLA know the guys here and they thought let's try it," Nabors said. "I would rather do it here because I live here."

A new drug on the market requiring a quick shot will not be used on Nabors because his transplant team refuses to make the switch for their favorite "test tube patient," Nabors said.

"I've never had any complications at all with the drug we're using. Golleee, why mess with success."

Local stars

What: "A Merry Christmas with Friends and Nabors"
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Hawaii Theatre
Cost: $40 and $50. Saturday matinee keiki discount tickets are $20 and $25.
Call: 528-0506

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