STAYCATION: THE RISK AND THE WRIST

Even a one-day (overnight) stay at a Waikiki hotel is a wondrous way for a staycation.

Here’s the background: I covered two back-to-back shows Sunday (Dec. 11) at Blue Note Hawaii, located at the Outrigger Waikiki resort.

The first show  (Frank DeLima) was at 12:30 p.m., a brunch event, followed by two later shows at 4 and 8 p.m. (Makena, aka as Ho’okena and members of The Makaha Sons), a Christmas and Hawaiian show. Took in the later performance.

Made no sense to drive in (during the Honolulu Marathon on Kalaniana‘ole Hwy.) only to return home in Hawaii Kai, and commute back a few hours later.

So I took the risk and checked out kamaaina rates, but they were $325 a room. Imagine what regular rates might be!

Contemplated the kamaaina rate. It was easiest to book a room where the shows were, but at those prices? An expensive risk, perhaps.

Waited a bit, then rechecked several days later via phone what rates were and the price had gone down, I guess, to $225, with no resort fee and half-price for overnight parking ($45 regular price).  So I decided to book ‘em, a holiday gift to myself and my wife.

At check-in, we were enticed into signing up for an upgrade ($89 more) for a room on a higher level with access to the hotel lounge, where breakfast and happy hour/dinner meals were included. Hmmmm. Decided to go up in price and room level, figuring we’d just eat at the hotel, utilizing the included dinner at night and breakfast the next day before checking out. After all, meals for two in Waikiki at a restaurant would cost more than $89. And our wrists became a gameplayer (why and how, more later).

The room was spacious, on the 16th level (17th is the penthouse), not super-duper elegant but comfy, clean, and convenient, with wi-fi, upgraded soap and shampoo amenities and an exclusive lobby-to-room access located near the Blue Note club.

A happy hour trek to the lounge, located on the former Chuck’s Steak House site on the lobby level, provides an efficient but no-choice meal, with the largest taro chips plus traditional corn ships with a slightly zesty aku dip, a couple of fruit options, and fried noodles with chicken and pork protein. Enough to satisfy the hungry, but lacking lounge-level fare choices and perks I’ve experienced at Mainland brand-name hotels at much higher tariffs.

Henry Kapono, ‘neath the tarp in black shirt, on the beach at Waikiki

A Sunday visit meant that Henry Kapono was doing his beachfront jam sessions near Duke’s, his signature show for decades. From a stone’s throw away, I peeked and listened from the lounge, noticing that swimwear folks were truly enjoying the moment.

Breakfast was satisfactory but also pedestrian – buffet eggs, bacon, bread and bagels for do-you-own toasting, tiny strawberry yogurt, fruits like honeydew melon and sweet pineapple.

Turned out to be a working staycation, since I was at my computer following the DeLima show to write and post a review, while my wife ventured out to reacquaint herself with some of the Waikiki spots we used to but haven’t visited since before the pandemic. Also got up early Sunday morning to do a Makena review, which I completed later from home.

Wrist band is room key for lounge guests a Outrigger Waikiki.

The most convenient discovery of the staycation was that the Outrigger, and likely other chic hotels elsewhere,  provides lounge guests with a new kind of wristband that includes your digital key (no more plastic cards to slide or wipe) to access the elevators and enter your hotel room.

Convenient for beachgoers and swimmers and no more misplaced or lost plastic card key.

That was the most eye-opening element of the staycation. And no complaints for the upgrade fee – worth it!

And that’s Show Biz. …

‘HAMILTON’: THE MORE, THE MERRIER

The more you watch “Hamilton,” the more you discover and savor; the more you observe, the more you reflect on how impactful the Lin-Manuel Miranda mega-hit is with parallels in modern-day history.

Happily, the touring company dubbed “And Peggy,” now ensconced at the Blaisdell Concert Hall for a historic eight-week run,  is the longest any show has cast its anchor here. It opened Wednesday night (Dec. 7) and runs through Jan. 29, 2023, with a well-honed cast carrying on the ebullient tradition of the musical still running in New York.

The Dec. 8 show was my fourth visit to “Hamilton,” and I’m still on a high. And I’m attending the show again, tonight (Dec. 10).

DeAundre Woods

 The hip-hop/rap score, with occasional R&B tunes, still is vibrant with diverse blind casting that initially might throw you a curve. Many African Americans are in the company, including DeAundre Woods as Alexander Hamilton  (commanding and conniving, propelling the story of America’s founding father ), and George Washington (Darnell Abraham, splendid and convincing) and Aaron Burr (Donald Webber Jr., dominating as Hamilton’s clever and conniving frenemy), and they all quickly define their characters with drum-beat perfection. The rap genre boasts lines and words and these dudes have mastered the delivery of smooth lyrics, in synch with the tempos of hip-hop.

The delivery is smooth and audibility is clear, without being overbearing. The facility’s sound often has been a source of irritation –often difficult to hear a singer or appreciate the musicianship — but there’s no quibbling here.

The “Hamilton” set has been tweaked with new hues .

First thing I noticed: the new-look set by David Korins (two levels, with a stylish “unfinished” fringe above the catwalk platform) augmented with lighting tweaks by designer Howell Binkley (his pallet includes orange and light blue-grey hues, with eye-catching tones that change periodically enhancing the performing space). Paul Tazwell’s costumes (properly light and bright, from formal soldier wear to elegant gowns) add to the spectacle.

(These technical team members are the show’s original artisans, so there’s powerful energy and imagination, for the road shows).

And yep, Hamilton’s “just you wait, just you wait” pitch in the opening number, is an indication he’s a do-er and he does. A political fighter and leader, who’s not afraid of verbal spats; a romantic, who has indiscretions; fearless and perhaps reckless; the secretary of treasury who takes a bullet. These are echoes of modern politicos.  

Eliza Hamilton (Morgan Anita Wood, elegant and faithful) marries Hamilton and outlives him by 50 years is the portrait of The Victim) and her sister Peggy Schuyler (Rebecca Covington, the commanding adulteress who becomes The Other Woman in Hamilton’s life) are equals in precision and perfection. Angelica Schuyler (Maria Harmon, superb, is the third Schuyler sister and intellectual equal of Hamilton).

Two other characters will wow the audience: King George (Rick Negron, comedic and captivating, via his hilarious “You’ll Be Back” anthem) and Marquis de Lafayette (Paris Nix, outrageous as Hamilton’s comrade, doubling as Thomas Jefferson).

Those fearing and uneasy of rap shouldn’t worry; the form is part of prolific Miranda’s language has been an avenue of  success, not changing, but augmenting Broadway ever-changing landscape and map; it’s not the gansta rap where hip-hip is commonly adults-only vocabulary.

Further, the revolving stage is intact and in motion, a design factor popularized by the “Les Miserables” model, and it works well in “Hamilton,” rotating performers with choreographic swirls.

The whole shebang is choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, orchestrated by Alex Lacamoire,  and directed by Thomas Kail, all from the original award-winning Broadway team.

And that’s Show Biz. …

‘JERSEY BOYS:’ OH, WHAT A NIGHT!

Oh, what a night!

“Jersey Boys,” the musical biography of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is in the midst of a two-week run at Blaisdell Concert Hall. It opened Sept. 13 and plays through Sept. 25, after being pushed back a couple of years ago because of the pandemic.

I took in last night’s (Sept. 16) performance; it’s still the best-ever jukebox musical because there’s a valid story with revelations, along with a fistful of No. 1 hits that made Valli and his partners a live-wire act for all seasons. And powerhouse renderings of the tunes that shaped the Seasons.

It’s the first time I’ve seen the show since its October 20O5 debut (it ran through 2017), where it was a huge success thanks to the frequent in-person appearances of Valli, early in the run; he’d pop in at the August Wilson Theatre in New York, to the delight of the producers and fans.  Less successful was the film version, which debuted in June 2014, directed by (of all people) Clint Eastwood.

It didn’t occur to me, when the show was new that it took nearly 50 minutes for one of the Four Seasons’ signatures would be sung and performed live. The prelude, to set up the characters and the potential of this yet-to-be-discovered attraction, seemed to stall like a used car. However, when the quartet finally gets all the cylinders going –starting with “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” — the ride was smooth and luxurious.

The Four Seasons, from left: Devon GoffmanEric ChamblissJon Hacker and Matt Faucher .

And let’s be honest: the applause, cheers and hurrahs for these iconic songs, plus the late-in-the-show Valli solo, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” were earnest and genuine. And I was surprised that the enthused and immersed spectators didn’t take up the worship a notch up, by getting up on their feet and gyrating and bouncing to the tempo, like in a rock show.

The key four guys, who were The Four Lovers before they selected and shared the “seasons” with Vivaldi, are Jon Hacker as Valli (sweet and crisp, charming, most effective vocally with his three colleagues),  Eric Chambliss as Bob Gaudio (the business mind of the group),  Devon Coffman as Tommy DeVito (the bad-boy, trouble-making one) , and Matt Faucher as Nick Massi ( who delivers one of the best lines, referring to himself as a Ringo, like in The Beatles). They sing their expected harmonies with repetitive do-wop choreography perhaps mirroring the act’s stage manner; you might say that this sort of musical form is part imitation of the original figures, with the reproduction of the musical arrangements to capture the moment of rock/pop ecstasy.

It works.

Like “Beautiful,” the Carole King musical, “Jersey Boys” knows how to pace with grace; there are ample fully-sung tunes that magnify the magic of their music. Unlike the mediocre Elvis Presley-inspired “All Shook Up,” the Beach Boys tuner “Good Vibrations,” and the Gloria Estefan bio “On Your Feet,” these shows lacked stories with some grit and conflict, so the cut-and-pace, sing-and-dance song performances are difficult to sustain.

Directed by Des McAnuff (also known for directing “The Who’s Tommy” on Broadway) “Jersey” includes the blemishes and the blurs of the Valli tale, exploring a young kid with an unusual falsetto voice, his divorce, a daughter with a drug problem, and in-group challenges like private partnerships and unpaid debts.

The book is by Marshall Brickman and Rick Rice, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe.

The score is rich with memorable titles, including “My Eyes Adored You,” “Dawn (Go Away),” “Walk Like a Man,” “Stay,” “Working My Way Back to You,” and “Rag Doll.”   Some of the tunes are not Four Seasons hits, but were composed by Gaudio  (“Who Wears Short Shorts.,” “Cry for Me,” “I Still Care”) or Crewe (“Silhouettes,” “I Go Ape”).

“Jersey Boys” features a traveling orchestra of eight or nine, performing like a rock band early on and segueing into a pop fixture with brass tooters, bass thumps and riffs that sustain, particularly when the four key voices resonate.

Oh, what a night of flashback memories…

And that’s Show Biz. …

 ———-

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minute, with intermission.

Playdates: varies, through Sept. 25.

Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com or Blaisdell box office at (808) 768-5252.

Advisory: Contains expletives, so young children should be alerted; facemasks recommended, but not required, due to the pandemic.

DO WE NEED MORE ‘PINOCCHIO’ FILMS?

Does the world need another “Pinocchio” revival?

Methinks not. Let’s face it: Disney’s classic animated feature, treasured by old and young alike, suffices. It’s the beloved version everyone adores and knows. Older generations, for sure, and the current younger folks.

Yet there’s a new 2022 version, a peculiar mashup with live actors and animated figures, with Tom Hanks, of all people, as Geppetto, the elderly clockmaker of tick-tocking clocks. He is sad and lonely in his cottage after the loss of his son.

So he pursues a project – a wooden son?

The revival begins with good intentions and motives, and even includes  — why not? – the cartoon film’s anthem, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” the signature of the Disney franchise and theme parks. But why not? Familiarity sells.

“Pinocchio,” directed by Robert Zemeckis, betrays the concept and intentions of the tale of a clockmaker creating, and giving life (without the strings), to a wooden a puppet doll. This Pinocchio goes to school, where he is bullied and maligned, and even goes to a theme park (not a Disney complex), where he becomes emotionally bruised. Reason: he has no conscience and is poised to be someone who seeks to be famous, a journey that thrusts him into a Pleasure Island of threatening horrors.

Tom Hanks, as Geppetto, who creates a wooden puppet boy, in the newest “Pinocchio.”

The bottom line: Pinocchio wants to be real and in fairy tales, that’s a logical wish. Your nose shouldn’t get long if you have this wish; it’s an acceptable goal, after all. As for Hanks, bewigged and bewildered, he visually fills the bill. But the story is the problem.

The script, by director Zemeckis and co-writer Chris Weitz, is quite a mess with a mission gone astray. It should be family-friendly, but it is often frightening; it should be terrific, but it is terrifying in spots. Not a version or vision for the very young,

Cynthia Erivo

Jiminy Cricket is aboard,  in animation, and voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt,  and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, voiced Pinocchio. Cynthia Erivo, appearing as the Blue Fairy, renders the famous “Wish” ditty in live action, so this is a fantasy within a fantasy, and her version is stunning—she has the wand that will make the wooden boy/toy “real.” Her presence is a good intro/promo when she co-stars in the planned film version of  “Wicked.”

But be warned: Whether you like or dislike revivals, be informed that Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion version of “Pinocchio,” will debut Oct. 15 at the BFI London Film Festival, then destined to have a theatrical premiere in November, followed by a Netflix kickoff Dec. 9. Online previews suggest a dark, perhaps grotesque, rendering is ahead. 

Too many, too often? …

And that’s Show Biz. …

COME TO THE ‘CABARET,’ OL CHUM

It’s not easy to forget Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles and Joel Grey as the Emcee, in the iconic movie version of “Cabaret,” which remains the benchmark for many folks familiar with the musical. And director-choreograph Bob Fosse’s fingerprints are everywhere.

“Cabaret” also has been a revival classic on Broadway, famously securing a perch on the must-see list, especially when Michelle Williams and Alan Cumming topped the cast.

Even the Manoa Valley Theatre’s reboot, with Marisa Noelle as Sally and Gage Thomas as the Emcee, will attract a crowd of rooters. When the material’s solid — and make no mistake, “Cabaret” still has wattage — it’s always gratifying to shout out, “Come to the ‘Cabaret,’ ol’ chum,” to quote a line in the show’s title number.

The basics remain –- music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, the set-in-Germany plot based on the play by John Van Druten, from the book by Joe Masteroff and inspired by stories by Christopher Isherwood. The story is about optimism and survival, amid the politics of Germany’s evolving growth of Nazism, circa 1930s.

MTV’s sleek rendering is ensconced in the tiny theater that has been reimagined as the Kit Kat Klub, “where everything is beautiful.” The spartan but impressive set, by Willie Sabel, is essentially a functioning scalloped curtain framed by bulbs like in a backstage mirror, but magnified in size, with six smaller frames of lights. Seating with tables and chairs (sofas, for premium seats) is augmented by service by waitstaff to deliver drinks and nibbles before the show, and during intermission. The nine-member orch, large for MVT and conducted by Maika‘i Nash, is situated on a platform above the last three or four rows of seats, so yes, it’s quite a clubby experience.

The show  boasts tunes of romance and yearning, and sexual advances as well as sexual ambiguity are constant.

From the get-go, when the Emcee welcomes the audience into his world, you leave your troubles outside. Thomas has a seductive voice, a sweet gay presence, befitting the club of dreams and hopes, where singer-dancer Sally warbles with passion and seeks a relationship with an American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Nick Amador, charming, sincere)  detained in Germany to teach English. The couple’s “Perfectly Marvelous” is an early highlight in the string of familiar tunes from the Kander-Ebb jukebox.

Along the way, Fraulein Schneider (Susan Hawes, loving and honest), who rents a room to Cliff, discovers  Herr Schultz (Mo Madke, distinguished and gentlemanly loyal, who’ll be remembered as the fruit man, including pineapple). They share two sweet duets, “If Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married,” devoid of the raunchy energy inside the Kit Kat.

The cast also includes Ernst Ludwig (Rob Duval, Cliff’s supportive friend) and Fraulein Kost (Sally Swanson, with a luminous voice), who duet on “Tomorrow  Belongs to Me.”

The swagger and the seductive tone of the nightclub is demonstrated in the frisky and sensual advances of the Kit Kat female dancers, Frenchie (Alexandria Zinov), Lulu (Emily North), Rosie (Asha DuMonthier), and Texas (Chloe Tower), and gents Bobby (Marcus Stranger), Victor (Eriq James), and Max (Sean Kaya).  Choreographer Dwayne Sakaguchi managed to orchestrate movement efficiently, despite different body types and skills, on that tiny stage space.

“Cabaret” cast: front, Marisa Noelle as Sally; behind her, Gage Thomas as Emcee; surrounded by Kit Kat girls.

Director Alex Munro pulls all the right strings to make the club feel genuine. And Janine Myers’ lighting design and Lock Lynch’s sound design bring out the twinkle of the production. Costumes by Mailee Speetjens project the vital sexual aura of the Kit Kat-ers, but Sally is often donned with a white shirt,  understating and clouding her world of glitter. Lisa Ponce de Leon’s hair and makeup appear suitable for the era.
Not sure if all the Germanic accent is on target, and some cast members do better than others.

So willkommen; order drinks; tip well.

“Cabaret” playdates:  now through Sept. 25, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays,  with 3 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays.

Tickets: $42 for adults,  $37 for seniors and military, and $24 for youths 25 and younger, available at www.manoavalleytheatre.com or at (808) 988-6131.

And that’s Show Biz. …