Waikiki's vibrant 'heartbeat'


POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2009

The few island residents who saw either version of “;Waikiki nei”; during its brief run last summer at what was then known as the Waikiki nei Showroom witnessed the failure of a well-intentioned effort to share the history of Waikiki without offending anybody. It may have been an impossible mission.





        » Where: Royal Hawaiian Theater, Royal Hawaiian Center

» When: 7:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays


» Cost: $49 to $69 (kamaaina and group rates available)


» Info: 931-6100 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)




For instance, there were two attempts to convey the tragedy of the overthrow with a number about someone taking flowers to Liliuokalani from her estate in Waikiki. The revised staging conveyed the human side of the story tragedy more clearly but still avoided the indisputable fact that the overthrow was perpetrated by a small group of businessmen who disenfranchised almost the entire population and then engineered the annexation of Hawaii against the expressed wishes of thousands of Hawaiians.

There was also an imaginatively staged number about resistance to overbuilding in Waikiki in which hula dancers performed with sticks and pipes in a choreographed “;battle”; with workers at a construction site. Many people feel that Waikiki has been overbuilt, but how do visitors process the messages in a number like that?

“;Waikiki nei”; closed for the second and final time shortly after a revised version of the show opened.

With “;Waikini nei”; as precedent, it isn't surprising that “;Heartbeat Hawaii,”; its long-anticipated replacement, makes no pretense at being anything more than colorful, fast-moving entertainment. The idea of Hawaii as a cultural melting pot is mentioned in the playbill notes, but the show is designed to dazzle the audience with the physical abilities and technical skill of the Chinese dancers/martial artists who comprise the cast.

There is no plot, no historic messages to share and no cultural lessons to impart.

In one respect it brings to mind Jack Cione's unforgettable “;Follies Polynesia”; nightclub show of the late '70s—a Las Vegas-meets-Hotel Street production that starred Hawaii's legendary male stripper/exotic fire dancer Prince Hanalei as a Hawaiian alii.

Waikiki hasn't seen anything like this, either.

The big difference is that Cione shocked the visitor industry when he brought Prince Hanalei from Hotel Street to headline a tourist show in the International Market Place. There is nothing shocking in “;Heartbeat Hawaii.”; It is G-rated family fare from start to finish.

There is seemingly nothing that would offend anybody—at least not during the opening-night performance on July 17. However, a section of one number, “;A Tribute to Hawaii,”; was cut an hour before the show opened.

I WOULDN'T have noticed it was missing. The show is a cross-cultural potpourri of choreography and costumes inspired by the music and culture of Hawaii, Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and possibly several other Indo-Pacific cultures.

One segment combines kendo and acrobatics. Others use fans with dramatic effect. Traditional Hawaiian shark-tooth weapons are used in martial arts sequences along with various Asian weapons. European-American culture is represented with numbers that feature samba, ballet and tap.

The dancers are a fit and energetic troupe. The group choreography is crisp and precise; several of the men stand out with their individual athleticism.

Nothing they did on opening night is likely to be mistaken for hula—kahiko or auana.

Two personable drummers add a “;live”; edge to the expansive electronic music tracks that provide the soundtrack for the dancers' performances. The duo gets a well-deserved number for themselves at the midpoint of the show, and they earned the audience applause on opening night.

China is evidently much more conservative that Hawaii—let alone Vegas—when it comes to costumes. The dancers' “;tights”; are far from tight. The costumes are riotously colorful but more conservative in cut and design than those worn by performers in Cione's “;Follies Polynesia”; and “;Oriental Fantasy”; shows in the '70s. True, acrobats' costumes must be designed to remain in place, but some of the others could be redone without revealing more than other Waikiki visitor shows currently in production.


Director laments cut hula segment

“;Ethnic Cleanliness in Paradise”; or the “;normal tweaks any production goes through”;?

No one in the audience on opening night would have noticed, but a three-minute section of the 80-minute show—a “;Modern Hula and Goddess Pele”; number within the “;Tribute to Hawaii”; segment—was cut from the show a little more than an hour before show time.

The show's producer/director, Dr. Dennis Law, responded by going public with a lengthy press release in which he compared the decision—attributed to either Roy Tokujo or kumu hula Manu Boyd—unfavorably with censorship policies in the People's Republic of China.

“;Our intentions were sincere and our efforts were genuine,”; he wrote, describing the deleted “;tribute to hula”; as “;an artistic effort that rose out of respect,”; while also saying, “;No insult to any culture was intended, and none should be felt.”;

Boyd responded last week that the show is Tokujo's “;kuleana”; (area of responsibility) and that comment on the decision to cut the number should come from him or his representatives.

“;It's a challenge for him, but I think it's one that he's working through right now and I think it would be more productive to talk with Roy,”; he said. “;I don't want to make it sound so 'whatever,' but this is his kuleana.”;

Tokujo commented through his publicist that it had been a “;mistake”; on his part to expect “;dancers who have never danced the hula ... to learn and choreograph even basic steps with just a couple of weeks of training,”; noting the proficiency in hula can “;take lifetimes to accomplish.”;

“;However, now that they are here in Hawaii, we can provide the proper training to polish their one number that has been temporarily omitted for regular performances ... until it is ready for a 'world premiere.'”;

He added that “;it has always been our intent to hire 14 local performers to be part of the cast.”;

“;Hawaii being the host state, it is our goal to make the hula segment a proper tribute to the beauty of the dance.”;