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Review: Don Tiki honors Hasenpusch
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
The late Fritz “Da Fritz” Hasenpusch got a heartfelt, albeit uneven, send-off on Saturday, Dec. 16, as Lloyd “Fluid Floyd” Kandell and Kit “Perry Coma” Ebersbach presented the second annual “Don Tiki Hot Lava Holiday Show” in the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Hasenpusch — known to Don Tiki fans as his on-stage alter ego, bizarre vocalist Delmar deWilde — died in August while visiting Honolulu to work on the “Hot Lava” show and record tracks for the group’s new six-song EP, “Don Tiki’s Hot Lava Holiday Songs.” Two male vocalists — Charles Degala and Elitei Tatafu, Jr. — filled in for Hasenpusch last night. Neither of them attempted to recreate the deWilde character or do anything similar in terms of characterization, but it was impossible not to “hear” Hasenpusch’s voice when they were doing the songs that had been written or arranged for him.
Arian Hasenpusch, speaking to the sold-out crowd before the show started, said that his father was smiling, “wherever he is.”
Given that Kandell and Ebersbach originally created Don Tiki as a “tribute band” to preserve and perpetuate the instrumental jazz-based “exotica” music of Martin Denny, Les Baxter and Arthur Lyman, it was not all that surprising that the band’s instrumentals were the most consistent part of the program. In fact, going strictly by audience applause, the most popular number in the first half of the show was an instrumental, “Carol of the Bells,” from the new EP.
Percussionist Abe Lagrimas Jr., earned a thunderous round of applause and cheers for his solo on vibraphone after intermission. The crowd also gave it up big time for a solo by flautist Tim Mayer, and for the lengthy instrumental interplay between “tribal drummer” Jason Segler and percussionist Lopaka Colòn.
The vocalists generally did not fare as well. Charismatic bassist Hai-Jung could be heard clearly and seductively before intermission singing “An Occasional Man,” and again when she was featured in the second half of the show, but much of the other singers’ work got lost in the audio mix.
When the singers could be heard clearly, they provided the comic elements in Kandell and Ebersbach’s evolving concept of Don Tiki as being both a tribute to Denny’s “exotica legacy” and a satire of it.
Multi-talented Sherry Shaoling radiated charisma as a singer, dancer and comedienne. Violetta Baretta, known until recently as one of the most professional members and brightest stars of the Cherry Blossom Cabaret dance troupe, contributed as a singer too. She also drew on the traditions within her CBC burlesque training with a dance number featuring a G-rated version of Josephine Baker’s iconic banana skirt costume of the 1920s.
Degala and Tatafu were also better served by the sound system after intermission. Degala’s most successful vocal number in that respect was a hapa-haole song performed as broad comedy. Tatafu, a versatile veteran of the Honolulu community theater scene, closed the main set with a lengthy sketch as a turbaned hypnotist.
In addition to a better audio mix and a bigger venue, Don Tiki and the audience alike would have benefited from an emcee. The set list included several of the songs from the recently released EP — “Xmas Eve at the Club Bambü,” “Jungle Jollyday” and “Bla Bla Cha Cha (Holiday version)” among them. All three songs are fine additions to the Don Tiki discography, but with no mention of the new EP during the performance there was no immediate incentive for anyone to go buy one during intermission or after the show.
What could be a better gift for anyone interested in “exotica” than a recently released EP signed by one or more members of the cast after the show? Oh well!
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at email@example.com.