It was halau of a show –artistically stunning, emotionally celebratory — proudly championed and shaped by the incomparable Robert Uluwehi Cazimero.

For kumu hula Cazimero and his hula disciples from Na Kamalei O Lililehua, yesterday’s sold-out performance at Leeward Community College Theatre was a benchmark event, a prelude to a likely series of performances leading up to Na Kamalei’s 50th anniversary in two years.

Cazimero and his two dozen gents have been popular attractions on the hula horizon, though like everyone everywhere else, took a break during the stifling three-year pandemic hiatus.

So the long overdue fund-raising hoike of sorts was a much-anticipated cultural event. So many hula types and A-list Hawaiian entertainers were among the crowd.

Sometimes, the gents sing…

For the dancers – the “then” group and the current crop – it was a major outing, like those long-gone Cazimero May Day and Christmas events.

For the audience – who have followed and witnessed Na Kamalei’s success – this was a continuation of a shared journey. The intermission was ripe with whopping howdy-dos, hugs and kisses, long-time-no-see expressions, and catch-up-and-talk story reunion. The spectators brought lei and sweets for the king of ho’olaulea, and leadership and fellowship were evident.

Quick recap:

— This is one heck of a halau; the fellas generally sing while dancing, adding modernity to some of the fun stuff. Yep, there are kahiko and ‘auona moments, but humor and joy are ingredients in the choice of material and execution.

— The lads are always immaculately and stylishly costumed, whether it’s ti leaf motif, aloha shirts and jeans, dress shirt with tie. The looks matter, and the hues are coordinated.

— Almost always, fresh lei adorn the dancers’ necks. Sometimes, nut and shell leis rule.

Robert Cazimero at the piano, best-buddy Kaipo Hale sharing memories.

— There are selective surprises. The return of prolific Kaipo Hale (Cazimero’s best buddy) to reflect on what it’s like being in the halau ranks, circa 1975 in the awkward but savvy launch of the group, was a joyous revelation of lessons learned, never forgotten, and the links of brotherhood camaraderie gained.

More often, the gents hula

— Cazimero attempted to theme his playlist, beginning with a projection of his personal desk at home, where his brainstorming and theories evolve.  The mele here began with a casual “War Chant,” and familiar fare featuring hula soloist  U‘ilani Lum on “Kuamo ‘o,” Ki Quilloy singing and Kaohi Daniels dancing on “Destiny,” and Zach Lum sharing his falsetto tones on “Ahulili.” A Travel Desk segment uncorked a splendid Big Island medley of “Ho’ea,” “Keawa ‘iki,” “Kona Kai Opua,” and “Mahai‘ula,” and a rhapsodic Punahele Moleta treatment of “Ikona” with hula by Sky Perkins. And dancer  Parker Spencer had his moment of glory, with swishing arms, on the ensemble hula to “Little Grass Shack.”

— After intermission, “Hula Guys” with the dancers also vocalizing, reflected the kind of sustenance within the halau.

— Further, the gents’ trademark “Teve Teve,” choreographed by Cazimero in the salad days of Na Kamalei, was a positive remembrance of song/style fusion, with an element of double-entendre naughtiness, that has characterized the brotherhood’s legacy.

— Cazimero was unusually chatty throughout the show, though his miking could have used a bit more juice to make him properly heard. He seemed a bit uneasy to launch an In Memoriam segment – should he or shoudn’t he? – and he did, with visuals of about two-dozen former gents who have gone to the giant halau in the sky over the nearly five decades of operations.

— I wondered if “Waika,” a classic staple in the repertoire, might be revived, and surely, it wound up as the finale number, with Robert singing with his gents from  at his usual keyboard perch, then walking to the front of the stage to convert the vocal into an a cappella specialty to close the show, with other previous gents and hula soloist Lahela Ka‘aihue joining in. …

And that’s Show Biz. …


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