Posted | Comments Off
Don Tiki remembers frontman as show goes on
BY GARY CHUN / email@example.com
The showbiz slogan “The show must go on” has taken on an especially poignant meaning to the makeshift ohana of Don Tiki, after one of its endearing members unexpectedly died in early August.
The “Polynesian pop” ensemble was preparing to headline a hometown show at the Doris Duke Theatre, followed by significant mainland gigs in Seattle and Los Angeles, when frontman Fritz Hasenpusch — known in the Tiki troupe as the charmingly oily lounge lizard Delmar deWilde — suffered a heart attack Aug. 5 while hiking the steep Haiku Stairs in Windward Oahu. The 62-year-old Hasenpusch — who was known to longtime residents as a radio deejay and lead singer for the 1970s rock band Schnazz — had traveled from Oregon to Hawaii to begin rehearsals for the shows.
DON TIKI’S HOT LAVA HOLIDAY SHOW
Where: Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Cost: $45, $40 museum members (tickets sold out)
Info: 532-8768 or honolulumuseum.org
Note: The Honolulu Museum of Art show is part of the museum’s new live music program. Next up: a “Secret Sound Showcase” featuring indie acts Clones of the Queen and Pink Mist and ukulele virtuoso Taimane Gardner, Jan. 25; and an evening with jazz vocalist Starr Kalahiki, Jan. 26
Needless to say, the founders of Don Tiki, emcee Lloyd Kandell and musical director Kit Ebersbach, had a hard decision to make after grieving for the loss of their friend. Should the exotica revue come to an end, or should the performers continue to prepare?
At a meeting Sunday at Ebersbach’s Chinatown recording studio, Kandell said a couple of “major breakthrough moments” helped make the final decision that much easier.
First, Hasenpusch’s family said that he would have wanted Don Tiki to carry on, knowing how much he loved doing the show.
Next, cast member Sherry Shaoling, a Honolulan who now works in Los Angeles, drew on her local community theater ties to introduce actors Charles Degala and Elitei Tatafu Jr. to the group.
“Kit and I checked out Tei when he was in ‘Young Frankenstein’ at Manoa Valley Theatre in September,” Kandell said. “And we know Charles has a beautiful baritone voice. So we decided to go with both guys.”
The members of Don Tiki decided to go forward, and its “Hot Lava Holiday Show” in Honolulu is now sold out.
After the show here, the troupe of instrumentalists and singer-dancers travels to the mainland to play Seattle’s Benaroya Hall on Monday.
On Thursday, Don Tiki will headline at the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. That show has been circled in red on the group’s docket since last December.
Don Tiki’s performance will highlight familiar favorites culled from its 15-year existence as well as songs from a new six-song EP, “Don Tiki’s Hot Lava Holiday Songs.”
One of the tracks on the new EP, “Xmas Eve at the Club Bambu,” features Hasenpusch’s last vocal performance. The EP is also the recorded debut of dancer and singer Violetta Beretta.
Beretta and Shaoling continue to provide the group’s eye candy (portrayed with a knowing wink) as they flirt and saunter across stage to Don Tiki’s “jungle jazz” beats. Now there’s also the new dynamic of working with Degala and Tatafu.
“Adding new cast members, the interaction is definitely different,” Beretta said, “but I like that there’s more people to play around with.
“Fritz as Delmar used to be the anchor for the show because his character personified what Don Tiki is all about, to be both an accomplished singer and entertainer,” Beretta said. “But Charles and Tei are not trying to re-create what Fritz did. The guys have their own flair and personality.”
DEGALA, 55, and Tatafu, 31, who sing in various characters during the revue, bring a combined 50 years of onstage experience to Don Tiki. Degala is a regular cast member of Tihati Productions’ “Creation: A Polynesian Journey” at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel, with a resume that extends back to being a singer-dancer with Dick Jensen, a participant in the 1981 “Lullaby of Swing” Waikiki stage show and even the occasional bit part on the original “Hawaii Five-0.”
Kaimuki High School grad Tatafu broke out of doing ensemble work at Diamond Head Theatre to singular recognition in the community theater’s 2002 production of “Copacabana,” MVT’s “Avenue Q” last year and the aforementioned “Young Frankenstein.”
“Theater has always been my passion,” Tatafu said, “and I love how wild and crazy this show is to do.
“It also has a certain charm to it, reminiscent of a certain era of music that was originally made popular decades ago. It’s like performing in this little time capsule. … We have to keep true to the style that Don Tiki is known for while we act, to hold onto the integrity of the music.”
Degala said, “I remember seeing one of the originators of exotica, Arthur Lyman, play at the Cork and Fork in Eaton Square while I was a singing waiter at nearby Villa Cabaret. But even though I’m familiar with this style of music, singing it is so different for me. It’s really out of the box. … There are a lot of different words and rhythms in the songs that keep it challenging.
“Kit’s writing has a lot of jazz elements to it. But it’s been fun to learn and to hear how the music compliments the ‘playing’ that Tei and I do onstage.”
When Saturday’s show arrives, the two should be ready to go, and Kandell is looking forward to what’s to come over the next week.
“We’ve been headliners at the Wassermusik Festival in Berlin, sold out Hawaii Theatre in 2003 with a show that included exotica originators Martin Denny and Augie Colon, and played the grand opening of the Hawaiian Tropic Zone in Las Vegas in 2008,” Kandell said. “But to play the Disney Concert Hall, this is special.”
The Disney Concert Hall, Seattle and Honolulu shows will all be presented in memory of the singular Delmar deWilde.