MURDER, MAYHEM, MIRTH IN WHODUNNIT

An oddity, “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” is neither a full-fledged musical nor a riotous comedy, though there are brief tuneful segments and a mix of laugher, amid a series of murders.

The whodunnit, playing at the Diamond Head Theatre, is actually quite charming. Actors eager to audition for a show (a musical, natch), along with a dancer, a singer and a comedian, who are seeking employment, so they assemble at the mansion of Elsa Von Grossenknueten (Lisa Konove, flamboyantly brilliant and in her prime) in Chappaqua, New York. The time is midnight (of course), at the height of a chilling snowfall (another of course). The theatrical figures hope wealthy Elsa will bankroll the musical, or so is the premise.

In actually, the estate is where three dancers were previously murdered by an unknown slasher, and a policeman, Michael Kelly (Michael Abdo, sleek in his sleuthing) is among the invitees and believes the slasher also is among the party guests. So everyone is a suspect;  or dead serious. a forthcoming victim.

The play, by John Bishop, is set in December, 1940, and opens with the murder of Elsa’s maid Helsa Wenzel (Brianna Johnston, fittingly domestic, who comes to life again, which viewers later learn how).  The slasher claims several more victims, terrifying the survivors, who are stuck in the snowstorm and the expected happens: the lights go out,  meaning more murders when they go on again.

The motley crew includes the singer, Patrick O’Reilly (Christopher Denton); the dancer, Nikki Crandall (Emily Lane); the comic Eddie McCuen (David Samsel),  a director Ken De La Maize( Lee Nebe); and a writing team comprising Roger Hopewell (Andrew Simmons) and Bernice Roth (Betty Bolton). They’re all wary of the lurking mayhem, beginning with the demise of Elsa’s friend, Marjorie Baverstock (Heather Taylor).

“Musical Comedy” cast: seated front, Lisa Konove, Michael Abdo and Heather Taylor; rear, from left, David Samsel, Emily Lane, Brianna Johnston, Christoper Denton, Andrew Simmons, Betty Bolton and Lee Nebe. — Brandon Miyagi photo, courtesy DHT.

An ensemble show, the cast builds chemistry with shared fear and mutual concerns about who is the killer. Frequent hilarity lessens the intensity of emotions in this kind of murder mysteries, and director John Rampage maintains a cadence of fright and laughs. Actress Konove, a veteran of many dramatic and comedic shows in the past, is in her element in this one, clad in flowing, elegant and colorful gowns created with authority by Emily Lane (doubling as a cast member), with Aiko Schick’s hair and makeup designs contributing to the era of the ‘40s.

A star is born, in set designer Randy Tandal’s auspicious debut as a stage designer, whose maginificent single-set spectacle is efficient and functional, with book shelves that spin to hide, then display, a hidden passageway. The one-view spectrum includes handsome doorways for entrances and exits, plus a clothes closet which conceals a body and also displays wardrobe. There are eye-filling gems including artwork on the walls and working lamps, working in sync with prop designer Travis O. Asaeli’s contributions – a desk, a comfy armchair, and a faux grand piano.

At long last, DHT has come of age, marking the first anniversary of the new theater with a set (finally) that demonstrates and reflects the magic of stagecraft. Clearly, greatness sprouts with time and talent. This set — and its creator — are winners! No set pieces to roll on and off stage; nothing to descend from the overhead fly space. What you see is what you get–excellence.

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“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940”

A play by John Bishop, about theatrical types gathering at a mansion, where murder is on the menu and a snowstorm prevents an escape

Where: Diamond Head Theatre

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; also at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 18; extension playdates, 7:30 p.m. Feb.23 and 3 p.m. Feb. 24

Tickets: $37 to $62, at www.diamondheadtheatre.com or (808) 733-0274

And that’s Show Biz…

THE THREE R’S OF HO‘OKENA

Ho‘okena’s Christmas residency at Blue Note Hawaii – the group did two shows Sunday (Dec. 17) at the club at the Outrigger Waikiki – was rich in values, robust in mele and hula, and radiant in lasting power.

I took in the 4 p.m. performance (vs. the 7:30 p.m. show) and was amazed and impressed with the content and command demonstrated by Horace Dudoit III (12-string guitar), Chris Kamaka (standup bass fiddle) and Glen Smith (slack key guitar). For added power, Aron Nelson guested on keyboards, and of course, Nani Dudoit’s (pictured below, right) hula contributions and Maila Gibson-Bandmann’s (pictured below, left) guest vocals provided substantial dance and vocal fireworks.

Few combos have the depth and skills to pull off a mixed repertoire of traditional Hawaiiana and familiar favorites from the yuletide repertoire. And impressively, all members of Ho‘okena have vocal  potency, as soloists as well as a trio. Their rendering of “Ku‘uipo I Ka He‘e Pu‘e One” – the rich harmonics, the high and low notes, the chemistry of togetherness– was a late-in-the-show keeper.

This time of the year, Ho‘okena and Maila  share the No. 1 holiday melody (“The Prayer,” the popular Celine Dion-Andrea Bocelli hit), but they wisley energized  and localized it with Hawaiian lyrics, elevating the appeal and octane. Smartly, “The Prayer” was the obvious save-the-best-for-last offering, before all left the stage, and exquisitely, Nani’s solo hula provided the grace and eloquence of the pseudo-religious ballad.

The Dudoits have learned well from mentor Robert Cazimero, over the decades. She was Robert’s and brother Roland’s hula soloist, in the era when the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room boasted an island attraction. Also, Horace’s earlier residency as one of the dancers in kumu hula Robert’s Halau Na Kamalei (now Lililehua) also has had deep-rooted impact.

The band, from left: Kamaka, Nelson, Dudoit, Smith.

Ho‘okena’s show is casual, but also retained the discipline and mission to deliver authentic and aspirational momentum. It’s alternately fun, consistently fabulous, thanks to the talent on view.

“Home for the Holidays,” the opening tune, was sort of the theme for the evening. The popular tune fronted a medley that instantly identified with Hawaii, featuring “Aloha and a Mele Kalikimaka” and the omnipresent “Mele Kalikimaka.” “Mele Kalikimaka Ei Nei” and “Mele Kalikimaka Ia Kakou” followed a bit later, but that’s not redundancy  —  these are mele that reflect the island yule experience.

Hula family, from left: Kaipo, Nalani and Horace Dudoit.

One of the sweetest segments was when Kaipo Dudoit – son of Nani and Horace – joinied his parents to hula on “Makee Ailana,” a song about the Waikiki region where the Honolulu Zoo parking lot sits today. This kind of spontaneous familial unity is reflective of performers here.

Ditto, the participation of Nani’s haumana (hula students) from her Halau Kaleilehuaikealoonalani on “Rose Lauli‘i, and the contingent of Halau Ka Lei Papahi o Kakuhihewa from Maui on the popular Kui Lee composition, “Lahainaluna.”

Maila, an infrequent guest artist with Ho‘okena, had a one-two wallop in a two-song segment, the first tune reflecting her Karen Carpenter stance on “Merry Christmas Darling,” which truly is a lady’s (not gent’s) solo number, with an enrapturing, silky glow. “Midnight Train to Georgia,” an unlike holiday tune, was dedicated to the memory of her late dad (his fave song), and she put a soulful, blues stamp on the tune, with Nani among the back-up singers, offering rousing Gladys Knight-and-the-Pips notes, and splendid “woo-woo” train vibes.

Finally, though we’ve annually heard Horace’s tale about “The Song of Christmas,” also penned by Kui Lee, it’s worth chuckling again about his early confusion about its lyrics, about Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), which was foreign to him years ago. It’s a genuine chortle to hear his story again and again…

And that’s Show Biz….

FINAL EVENING OF HOLLY-JOLLY

Robert Cazimero owns December; his recent two-night stand Dec. 9 and 10 at Leeward Community College Theatre, plus his ongoing Full Moon Concert at Chef Chai’s, which began Dec. 13 and concludes with the final performance tonight (Dec. 17), makes him the Santa of yuletide songs.

Gift yourself with reservations; if space remains, take in the finale. You’ll also enjoy chef Chai Chaowasaree’s bountiful meal, and you’ll frolic in Cazimero’s antics, charm, and artistry.

At his keyboard at Chai’s, Cazimero is flying solo, though his customary dancers, Bully and Fern were challenged last night to hula in tight aisles, since diners are plentiful, with servers delivering meals, and a lovely but large Christmas tree (bathed in red) standing majestically amid the crowded space.

Happily, the coziness works and a celebratory posture prevails.

‘Tis the jolly-holly season, and Cazimero, the kumu hula of Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua, is serenading packed houses in performances that may lack theatrics (think Leeward Community College) but not talent. Cazimero puts as much oomph into his solo serenades as he does when he’s orchestrating daunting, larger hula spectacles with his gents.

Cazimero sings, Bully dances amid crowded aisles.

Take last night. Since he focused on a repertoire of holiday tunes – a huge chunk of island melodies, as well as traditional mainstream classics – there won’t be any songs totally unknown to you.

From “Jolly Holly Christmas,” his opening number, till “Mele Kalikimaka,” his closing tune that turned into an audience sing-along, Cazimero  shared 20 songs over nearly 90 minutes, personalizing each melody to suit his style.

Many vocals seemed to become part of a medley, not necessarily logical, but the mood felt like Cazimero was weaving a lei, with an orchid here, a plumeria there, resulting in satisfaction for the artist and his audience.

Spontaneity was the bottom line. “Winter Wonderland” followed “Holly Jolly,” and “E Kuu Morning Dew” followed “Wonderland,” which was followed by “Hawaiian Santa.”

Then from left field, the pidgin English “What’s a Matter You Last Night” (local seniors will rejoice upon hearing it) popped in, for gentle laughs, with “Christmas in Hawaii” completing this thread.

Any show mixing the Alvin and the Chipmunks hit, “Christmas Don’t Be Late” from way back then and “Drinking Champagne” by Myra English, the local fave when toasting drinks, reflects under-appreciated brilliance. Few ever sing these ditties anymore. So it’s a touch of genius to encounter some forgotten gems.

Cazimero tapped the yuletide library to cherry-pick his choices. His Hawaiian songbook was rich with some obvious titles, including “Christmas in Hawaii”  and “Aloha Kalikimaka,” and his traditional list featured the likes of “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and a stunning “Away in a Manger.”

Amid the carefree fun, Cazimero managed to include a precious Hawaiian number, Kahauanu Lake “Pua Lililehua,” written for his kumu hula wife, Maiki Aiu Lake, boasting unparalleled beauty and authenticity. And isn’t Lililehua now part of the name of his halau?

Of course, he may abandon some songs and replace titles as he sees fit, so don’t anticipate the same playlist tonight. Whatever Cazimero programs, you’re bound to find yuletide cheer and goodwill befitting Christmas.

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Robert Cazimero’s Full Moon Concert, Christmas Edition

When: 6:30 p.m. today; dinner served from 5:30 p.m.

Where: Chef Chai’s.

Cost: $99, includes show and complete meal.

Reservations: (808) 585-0011 or Open Table at https://www.opentable.com/neighborhood/hawaii/honolulu-restaurants

Broadway grosses, for week ending Dec. 10

Two musicals — “The Lion King” and “Wicked”: continue to be in Broadway’s $2 million club.

The Top 10 shows, for the week ending Dec. 10:

1 –”The Lion King,” $2,408 million.

2—“Wicked,” $2,263 million.

3—”Merrily We Roll Along,” $1,923 million.

4 – “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” $1,845 million.

5–  “Hamilton,” $1,824 million,

6– “MJ The Musical,” $1,722 million.

7—”Aladdin,” $1,542 million.

8 –”Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” $1,463 million.

9 –”Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” $1,413 million.

10—“Back To The Future: The Musical,” $1,338 million.

The complete list, courtesy The Broadway League:

And that’s Show Biz..

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CAZIMERO’S GIFT KEEPS ON GIVING

Robert Cazimero’s 2023 celebration of the spirit of Christmas – last night (Dec. 9) and this afternoon today (Dec. 20)  at Leeward Community College Theatre–  is the season’s best gift.

Loyalists know that Cazimero, the esteemed artistic director and resident star attraction, will deliver a stupendous production with solemn moments of peaceful joy along with giddy and engaging comedics to touch the soul and bring out the smiles.

So, if you gifted yourself with tickets, it’s money well spent to support Cazimero’s Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua as well as the host theater, located in a zip code that demands freeway journeys for townies.

The performance, engineered by the singer-kumu hula’s brilliance, includes fresh concepts and content:

— A trio, dubbed Bob’s Boys by Cazimero, provided the music: Richard Heirakuji on bass, Kaipo Hale on ‘ukulele, and Keala Chock on guitar. The gents are seasoned musicians, and Hale is kumu’s best friend, so the support entwines friendship and fellowship as a bonus.

Kalenaku DeLima Parrish (pictured above, with Cazimero) is the lone guest-star singer, with roots with Kapena, where she was vocalist and keyboardist for the family act led by her dad, Kelly “Boy” DeLima. So, she is a veteran performer who brings freshness and form to a new environment.

—  Standby regulars in a Cazimero show include the Ladies of the Royal Dance Company, known for stylish grace, and the irrepressible lads of Na Kamalei, with a few taking alternating solo stints. And since the dancers are also formidable singers as well, there’s always substance and surprises from the ranks.

Cazimero is accustomed to theme his programs, so this one is no different; the first half is themed Green, the second half White, though the palettes are not restrictive.

The show began with “The Angel Medley,” with the entire cast mingling and chiming together in vocals, fronting a simple set of triangular motif “trees” as the solitary backdrop capable of changing hues.

Merriment prevailed with fun tunes like “Ring, Ring, Ring” and “Doodle Doodle Dee Doo” melding into “We Wish You the Merriest Hawaiian Christmas.” A garland of island holiday ditties followed, including “Mele Kalikimaka Ia Kakou,” “Christmas in Paradise” and “Mele Kalikimaka Ei Nei.”

The halau guys showed their versatility, singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” (in the Green sector) and also danced “Hawaiian Hospitality.”

Soloist Parrish offered warm vocals in both halves, “Do You Hear What I Hear” in the first act, “Merry Christmas Darling” in the second, and her presence outside of the Kapena circle introduces her to a broader audience.

Unexpected thrills unfolded after intermission:

— The halau bros provided a stunning and inventive moment of blissful talent, building on their acclaimed hula, when each dancer appeared on stage, carrying a chair or a stool, to render “I Love Christmas,” as a hand-clapping dance (pictured above). That is, they sang while clapping hands, doing a variety of motions, and uncorking hidden skills that can be credited to Cazimero’s imaginative choreography.

— There was another joyous moment, when Cazimero sang “Joy to the World,” with halau member Kaipo Dudoit (pictured below,) performing on violin, showcasing breadth and versatility – and triggering a special kind of emotional experience.

— Then there was the whimsy and wackiness, when Cazimero reflected on small-kid-time memories with family and brother Roland, on “My Friend Al,” which segued into “Me and My Dinosaur” (pictured below), engaging the pleasurable vocal and dancing  charms of the halua. And making a guest appearance: a dinosaur figure (identity not known) singing and prancing, like a larger-than-life toy in animation mode.

— And an emotional and spiritual wave, with Cazimero rendering “Go to the Light,” with the entire ensemble joining in, with halau dude Nick Lum also soloing.

Cazimero had several prime moments from his piano, but his artistry and perspective in creating a holiday package is his key talent, his overview tapping elements as diverse as his followers, from the young to the elderly. His “From Our House to Your House” tune reflected his notion of sharing and caring

Finally: this event included a rare “hana hou” by Cazimero, who appeared centerstage after the curtain fell (pictured above), sharing – again, in the spirit of the season – a special treat for the Leeward Theatre gang. He returned to his piano and put his vocal imprint on “The Christmas Song,” the Mel Torme evergreen composition, which clearly is the gift that keeps giving.

Merry Christmas. …

And that’s Show Biz…

A REFLECTIVE, REVEALING WAYNE NEWTON

Wayne Newton’s debut last night (Dec. 8) at Blue Note Hawaii was largely reflective and revealing, offering more chit-chat than crooning.

He’s headlining two more nights at the Outrigger Waikiki venue, at 6:30 p.m. today (Dec. 9) and tomorrow (Dec.10). The earlier announced 9 p.m. performances have been canceled.

Opening night was a near-sellout.

“Mr. Las Vegas,” as he’s widely known, remains a cordial trouper, but in this stage of his career, he appears to be more conversational than crooner. (Lest you forget, Newton also is known as the Midnight Idol).

He’s still got his chops, but the voice is not as potent and precise as his Vegas era.

Perhaps that’s why he’s utilizing vintage video (two screens, one on each side of the stage) that captures his enterprising early years, often singing along (in the darkened stage) with the filmed versions. It’s like he’s in his living room, showing clips of his accomplishments, with a retinue of dear friends.

The Honolulu audiences don’t seem to mind this format.

Opening with “Viva Las Vegas,” an anthem to Sin City,  Newton was backed by a pianist, a bassist, and a drummer, not the large orchestras he was accustomed to in his heyday as a kingpin of the strip.

He was a namedropper, too, with a purpose: so many show biz veterans have had his back over the decades, principally Jack Benny, who “discovered” him and booked Newton on his TV show, and Jackie Gleason, who saw that show, and gave him a break by enlisting his talent as his opening act.

One particular secret unveiled: he became buddies with Bobby Darin, who produced Newton’s albums for seven years, and the “Mack the Knife” singer “gave” Newton a tune that was supposed to be recorded by Darin, who wanted Newton to have a hit song: “Danke Schoen.”

Strangely, “Danke” was one of four of his biggest hits, but Newton performed it as a sing-along with a taped version, a formula he utilized with three other chartbusters: “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” “Summer Wind,” and “Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast” with LP covers displayed on the video screens.

Of the titles he sang, “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night” were no-fuss highlights.

His vignettes were often fascinating, like how he met Elvis Presley at the Paramount studios, while they were filming separate projects; how he befriended Rat Packers Frank Sinatra, who became a lifetime friend till his passing; his takes on Dean Martin (“he smokes a lot”) and Sammy Davis Jr. (“he comes up to here,” referencing his short height); and  Bob Hope (“he brings happiness to your soul,” for his well-documented tours to the war fronts, namely Vietnam).

Newton plays 13 instruments, a feat he demonstrated in his Vegas shows, but at Blue Note, he only displayed his prowess on guitar, violin and steel guitar. On the latter, he played “Lovely Hula Hands,” in homage to Hawaii.

He didn’t mention earlier island ties, however, that he married, but divorced Elaine Okamura, a Honolulan who was a flight attendant, and he played – well before his Vegas fame – at the Dunes supperclub and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room.

His final song, “My Way,” often attributed to Ol’ Blue Eyes since the lyrics, written by Paul Anka for Sinatra, reflected the highs and lows of life, which resonates as an anthem by many entertainers.

So: If you’ve been a Newton fan from the early years, you’ll find the stories he shares fascinating, and you’ll mark him as a survivor of the roller-coaster ride of a seasoned trouper….

And that’s Show Biz…

Wayne Newton

Where: Blue Note Hawaii, Outrigger Waikiki resort

When: 6:30 p.m. today (Dec. 9) and tomorrow (Dec. 10);  doors open at 5 p.m.

Tickets: $125 (premium seats) and $85 (loge and bar zone), at www.bluenotehawaii.com and (808) 777-4890.