Big-time Waikiki productions growing

Apr. 19, 2013 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Above, 'Aha 'Aina at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel can be seen every Monday and is one of the many shows Waikiki has to offer. --Courtesy Tihati Productions

Above, ‘Aha ‘Aina at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel can be seen every Monday and is one of the many shows Waikiki has to offer. –Courtesy Tihati Productions

BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

In temperate climes, spring is traditionally seen as a time of renewal after the cold desolation of winter. Look at Waikiki these days and it seems that a welcome, springlike renewal is finally taking place entertainment-wise after the lengthy economic “winter” caused by the Great Recession of 2008.

Two new shows have opened in Waikiki, and most of the established headline attractions are anticipating larger audiences and brighter days.

“We’ve felt a definite influx in business for what we do,” says Afatia Thompson, vice president of Tihati Productions, which produces four Polynesian-themed shows in Waikiki and another seven on the neighbor islands.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air for us and a huge relief after surviving and getting through a couple of years of hard times. We see it all around.”

Thompson and Tihati Productions have deep roots in Waikiki. Parents Cha and Jack “Tihati” Thompson, founders of Tihati, have been major players in visitor entertainment for decades.

“We’re going through upgrades of all of our productions, new numbers (and) new concepts, so that we can offer the repeat visitors something new to see while keeping the (established) names strong — ‘Creation’ or ”Aha ‘Aina’ — so that they can feel like they’ve seen something new again,” Thompson said.

John Hirokawa of 'Magic of Polynesia.' --Courtesy Magic of Polynesia

John Hirokawa of ‘Magic of Polynesia.’ –Courtesy Magic of Polynesia

“Our goal is to be entertaining but to stay culturally correct and authentic with all of our presentations. That’s the direction that we’re going and always have been trying to go, and I think we’ve done that.”

The other showroom act in Waikiki with a timeline comparable to Tihati Productions is the Society of Seven. Start counting from 1969, when the original seven-man lineup opened, and the Society of Seven has been a Waikiki showroom attraction for 43 years.

In 2001, SOS leader Tony Ruivivar created a younger namesake group, the Society of Seven-Las Vegas. Society of Seven-Las Vegas was originally based on the mainland, but in recent years the young group has inherited the Waikiki showroom.

The younger group has maintained the showroom formula perfected by Ruivivar — celebrity impressions, Broadway hits, oldies and current hits — with a five-performer lineup (multitalented Jeannette Trevias is the first woman to be a member). Along with teenage vocalist Arshiel, the act’s current guest star, Society of Seven-Las Vegas is developing a new show at the Outrigger that showroom manager Paul Perri describes as “cool, fun and evolving into something good.”

“We’re going to have our grand opening coming up in a few weeks,” Perri said. “It’s hard work but it’s worth it. We got Jonathan (Kaina) doing sax solos, we got Jan Luna playing ukulele — and you have got to see the (celebrity) impersonations. That’s one thing about the SOS, this is live entertainment.”

Between them Tihati Productions and Society of Seven span a cultural spectrum from traditional Polynesian luau shows to contemporary American music, song and dance.

A Maori performer from a Tihati Productions show. --Courtesy Tihati productions

A Maori performer from a Tihati Productions show. –Courtesy Tihati productions

TWO NEW SHOWS in Waikiki — Benise’s “Nights of Fire!” Hawaii at the Waikiki Beachcomber and “Aloha Live” at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel — offer additional, distinct attractions.

Acoustic guitarist Benise plays a style of music he describes as “nouveau flamenco” or “rockmenco.” His show, a spinoff of an original production that became a PBS television special, runs more than 90 minutes and blends elements of tango, salsa, samba and flamenco with rock and pop.

Dance is a big part of Benise’s “Nights,” and the dancers are spectacular.

“Aloha Live,” the creation of entertainment producer Cornell “Tuffy” Nicholas, juxtaposes four Polynesian dancers and local icon Vili “Vili the Warrior” Fehoko with four world-class Cirque du Soleil-caliber specialty artists. The dinner show is being mounted in a relatively intimate, open-air environment, on the pool deck of the Queen Kapiolani.

Nicholas’ previous production here, “Cirque Hawaii,” ran for almost three years in the old IMAX theater before folding in 2008. This time around he admitted to being cautiously optimistic about the future.

“I’ve noticed the trend that it’s coming back, and I feel very confident that Hawaii is going to be one of the leading places in the world for tourists,” Nicholas said.

“I had a show working in Miami. I am from Florida originally, and I was going to keep doing shows there but I kept being called to Hawaii,” he said. “A friend of a friend said, ‘Why don’t you take a look at the space?'”

The Queen Kapiolani site, with seating for 154, is relatively small, but Nicholas noted that “small” has its advantages. For instance, at “Aloha Live” every dinner is cooked to order.

“It’s a little bit harder to do,” he said, “but hopefully it’s a better product.”

“Nights of Fire” and “Aloha Live” are being intensely promoted in order to reach out to the public and island tour operators.

Kevin Lapenia before the start of 'Aloha Live' at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel. --Bruce Asato / basato@staradvertiser.com

Kevin Lapenia before the start of ‘Aloha Live’ at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel. –Bruce Asato / basato@staradvertiser.com

IN WAIKIKI and across Oahu, long-standing showroom acts are predicting good business and adding fresh attractions.

Illusionist John Hirokawa’s “Magic of Polynesia” experienced “a great year” in 2012, said Roberts Hawaii CEO Percy Higashi. Roberts, a tour company, is the parent organization for “Magic of Polynesia.”

“We’re continuing to see growth in 2013,” Higashi said.

Hirokawa has provided a unique attraction as a Waikiki headliner since he opened the original “Magic of Polynesia” show at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Dome 23 years ago.

In 1998 the illusionist moved to a specially built showroom at the Waikiki Beachcomber, where he’s drawn a steady audience ever since.

“Magic of Polynesia” and Roberts are committed to keeping the show fresh, Higashi said.

“Some of our more recent innovations include new effects in the showroom, as well as changes to the show including new illusions and close-up sleight-of-hand magic,” Higashi said. “We will be watching these new shows, but at this time are not anticipating a major impact on our business.”

Elsewhere around town, Legends in Concert Waikiki celebrated its first anniversary in December, introducing a new lineup of tribute artists and the new character of Steven Tyler (Chris VanDahl) in addition to Madonna (Kimberly Goltry), Michael Jackson (Damian Brantley), young Elvis (Victor Trevino Jr.) and ’70s Elvis (Johnny Fortuno).

The Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie is also making a bid for new and return business with a newly rebuilt Hawaiian village, including new attractions. Its Polynesian-themed show, “Ha: Breath of Life,” seeks to attract Hawaii residents as well as visitors.

Attendance remains strong, said Raymond Magalei, the PCC’s vice president of sales and marketing, in an email: “We look forward to welcoming more guests as we continue to unveil revamped attractions, as part of our five-year revitalization plan.”

Benise's 'Nights of Fire!' is one of the many live performances and one of the newest to Waikiki, performed nightly at the Waikiki Beachcomber Resort. --Joah Buley / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Benise’s ‘Nights of Fire!’ is one of the many live performances and one of the newest to Waikiki, performed nightly at the Waikiki Beachcomber Resort. –Joah Buley / Special to the Star-Advertiser

DESPITE THE encouraging signs and cautiously optimistic projections, no one expects Waikiki to again become the entertainment wonderland for residents it was in the ’70s and ’80s.

A major factor is the inescapable fact that as Oahu’s population has dispersed out into Mililani, Waikele and Makakilo, the proportionate number of people who can spend a day at work and then make a second round trip to Waikiki on a weeknight has dwindled. The rise of home

entertainment and raised drinking age have also affected the potential local audience.

Economic shocks, including the drop in discretionary spending during the recession, led many businesses in Waikiki to retract.

But new growth has the potential to draw growing audiences as well.

Although it may seem counterintuitive at first, Nicholas said he hopes that “Aloha Live” and Waikiki’s other showroom attractions will be joined by others.

“I wish there were more shows in Waikiki,” Nicholas said.

“I think it would be good for the whole tourism business to be a show destination. There are a lot of things to do during the day, but at night there really aren’t that many things to do at night beside bars — and a lot of people don’t want to just hang out at bars.”

Nicholas noted that most showroom acts go on in the early evening, leaving room to grow performances later at night.

“I hope it works,” the longtime circus producer said. “I love it here.”

'Aloha Live's' Geddy Pavlovicius balances on a stack of steel cylinders. The show combines Polynesian dance and Cirque du Soleil-inspired performances. --Bruce Asato / basato@staradvertiser.com

‘Aloha Live’s’ Geddy Pavlovicius balances on a stack of steel cylinders. The show combines Polynesian dance and Cirque du Soleil-inspired performances. –Bruce Asato / basato@staradvertiser.com

SEE THE SHOWS

‘ALOHA LIVE’
Where: Queen Kapiolani Hotel, 150 Kapahulu Ave.
When: 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays (show starts at 6:15 p.m.)
Cost: $69 general admission ($49 for ages 3-11), includes dinner and two drinks; $89 VIP ($69 for ages 3-11), includes dinner, three drinks, reserved seating and souvenir photo; $199 VIP champagne seating (21+), includes VIP package plus bottle of champagne
Info: 931-3320 or alohaliveshow.com
Note: Parking is $1 per hour in the public lot across from the hotel

BENISE’S ‘NIGHTS OF FIRE!’ HAWAII
Where: Waikiki Beachcomber Resort, 2300 Kalakaua Ave.
When: 9:30 p.m. nightly
Cost: $55-$97 (military/kamaaina rates available)
Info: 971-4321 or gioboxoffice.com

‘HA: BREATH OF LIFE’
Where: Polynesian Cultural Center, Laie
When: 7:30 p.m. nightly
Cost: Showroom options begin at $25 for kamaaina
Info: 293-3333 or polynesia.com

LEGENDS IN CONCERT WAIKIKI
Where: Royal Hawaiian Theatre, Royal Hawaiian Center
When: 8:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
Cost: $50-$180
Info: 629-7469 or LegendsWaikiki.com

JOHN HIROKAWA — ‘MAGIC OF POLYNESIA’
Where: Waikiki Beachcomber Resort, 2300 Kalakaua Ave.
When: 8 p.m. nightly; dinner seating at 6:45 p.m.
Cost: $30-$144
Info: 971-4321 or robertshawaii.com

SOCIETY OF SEVEN
Where: SOS Showroom, Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach Hotel, 2335 Kalakaua Ave.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
Cost: $27-$47
Info: 923-7468 or societyofsevenwaikiki.com

TIHATI PRODUCTIONS: ”AHA ‘AINA’
Where: Royal Hawaiian Hotel
When: 5:30 p.m. Mondays
Cost: $97-$175
Info: 921-4600 or royal-hawaiian.com/dining/ahaaina

‘CREATION': A POLYNESIAN JOURNEY
Where: Ainahau Showroom, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel
When: 7:15 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Sundays; dinner seating at 6 p.m.
Cost: $48.75-$160
Info: 922-5811 or princess-kaiulani.com/dining/creation

‘ROCKIN’ HAWAIIAN RAINBOW’
Where: Hilton Hawaiian Village
When: 7 p.m Fridays
Cost: $20
Info: 941-5828 or hiltonhawaiianvillage.com

‘WAIKIKI STARLIGHT LUAU’
Where: Hilton Hawaiian Village
When: 5:30 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays
Cost: $51-$125
Info: 941-5828 or hiltonhawaiianvillage.com

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