Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi Hawaii’s
Back yard

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

Magic, hula highlight
dinner show

The Hawaiian word "kupanaha" translates as "surprising, strange, wonderful, amazing, extraordinary, marvelous, astonishing" -- all of which aptly describe the Kaanapali Beach Hotel's new dinner show, "Kupanaha: Maui Magic for All Ages."

Master illusionists Jody and Kathleen Baran headline the show, along with their two daughters, 11-year-old Katrina and 7-year-old Crystal.

The magic bug bit Jody at the tender age of 5. By the time he was 12, most of his weekends were spent "performing at any engagement possible" to hone his skills, techniques and routines. For more than 20 years, he dazzled audiences on cruise ships, which enabled him to travel around the world 10 times. He has won many accolades for his showmanship, including first-place awards from the International Brotherhood of Magic and the Symposium of Magic, and the coveted title of "World Champion of Magic" in 1987.

Kathleen Baran is an accomplished dancer, actress, model and illusionist in her own right. She met Jody in 1995 while she was working as a professional magician's assistant -- and it was instant magic. They've been inseparable ever since, both personally and professionally. The couple owns Magic Enchantment, Inc., which produces one-of-a-kind magic presentations for cruise ships, amusement parks and casinos around the world. The company's shows have been performed in half a dozen different languages in more than 30 different countries.

Magic fills the Kanahele Room at Kaanapali Beach Hotel.

"Magic has no language barriers," asserts Jody. "We as human beings all have a natural curiosity while watching magic. It's a language that's understood by everyone."

And enjoyed by everyone! "Kupanaha" promises magic for all ages, and that's exactly what it delivers through a marvelous mix of myth and magic. The Baran family's cutting-edge levitation illusions, disappearing acts and sleight-of-hand tricks are interwoven with legends of the Hawaiian demigods Pele and Kamapuaa, which are told by larger-than-life-size puppets and through hula, songs and chants by the Kanoeau Dance Academy. The eight dancers featured in "Kupanaha" range in age from 11 to 22. Don't let their youthfulness deceive you; all are polished performers who have won local dance or singing competitions.

KUMU HULA Keala Kukona started the Kanoeau Dance Academy especially for keiki. Founded in 1990 in Lahaina, the school is named after the late Harold Kanoeau Delatori, with whom Kukona worked as a kuhina (Hawaiian cultural ambassador) at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel during the 1980s.

Kanoeau means "gifted one," a description Kukona asserts perfectly fit Delatori. "Harold was brilliant," she says. "He was compassionate; he showed love and everybody loved him."

Watching "Kupanaha," it's obvious the academy's keiki are all "gifted ones." But their goal, Kukona explains, is to educate as well as entertain.

"My concern is to share the accuracy of our legends and stories with our visitors. Sometimes people receive it in bits and pieces without enough information to understand how the story goes.

"With 'Kupanaha: Maui Magic for All Ages,' people receive an accurate story. We provide the chant and hula, and the magic enhances the story. We add to the magic, and the magic part adds to us."

ALSO AUGMENTING the show's appeal are new laser, lighting, special effects and surround-sound systems. Even better, the delicious three-course dinner is served at the table by smartly dressed staff wearing white gloves. It's a noteworthy touch of sophistication, but not at all stuffy. Each course is announced by puppets, and even the drinks are fun. Be sure to try the Flashing Mojito, a refreshing blend of rum, club soda, lime and mint that comes with a flashing souvenir ice cube.

Says Tom Fairbanks, the Kaanapali Beach Hotel's director of food and beverage, "We've developed a fabulous mix of magic and traditional hula and chant to show and tell guests about Hawaii's mythical demigods. One of the great things about 'Kupanaha' is that it's performed in a small venue. It's not like being at a luau in a crowd of 500 or more people. Our Kanahele Room holds only 240 people so you're able to enjoy an intimate, close-up kind of experience, which is perfect for magic."

Fairbanks also points out the uniqueness of the arrival experience. Guests are greeted by puppets as they stroll through a setting that emulates a tropical bamboo forest, complete with mist, chirping birds, falling rain, and dancing lights and shadows.

"From the moment you step through the doors, you're immersed in a surreal setting that stirs your imagination," Fairbanks says.

"You relax and allow yourself to escape from reality into this wondrous new world. Combine that with a first-class meal and a first-class show, and it all adds up to an evening of pure magic!"

Kupanaha: Maui Magic for All Ages

Place: Kanahele Room, Kaanapali Beach Hotel, 2525 Kaanapali Parkway, Kaanapali, HI 96761

Performances: Tuesdays to Saturdays. Check-in is at 4:30 p.m. and guests are seated at 4:45 p.m. Dinner service begins at 5:15 p.m. and the show runs to 8 p.m. Complimentary validated self-parking. Advance reservations required.

Three-course dinner: Roasted Vegetable Bruschetta or Pig in a Pareo (smoked pork, sweet corn, mushrooms and caramelized Maui onions in a crispy egg roll wrap); Fresh Island Snapper, Roasted Stuffed Chicken Breast, Steak and Shrimp, or The Vegetarian (grilled tofu sauteed with shiitake mushrooms, red peppers, kale leaves, red onions and marinated eggplant); and Pineapple Cheesecake or Tropical Fruit Plate. Children choose from hamburger and fries, breaded chicken nuggets or spaghetti with meat sauce, and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Call: 808-667-0128 on Maui or toll-free 800-262-8450. Seating is assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the date and time reservations are confirmed.

Prices: Gold Circle $79 for first row of tables for best viewing; $69 general seating; $49 for kamaaina; $49 ($39 kamaaina) for ages 13 to 20; $29 for ages 6 to 12.


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Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.


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