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.


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. …


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. …


They called themselves Na Makamaka, and why not?

Makamaka refers to beloved friends, who effortlessly give and take, and share and demonstrate, unifying the gift and power of friendship.

For Jerry Santos, Kuuipo “Ipo” Kumukahi, Haunani Apoliona and Ryan Tang, last night ‘s (Aug.27) gig at the Hawaii Convention Center was a genuine evening of makamaka. It was all about fond memories, rich vocals and instrumentals, and contagious camaraderie. It was spontaneous and revealing, as if they assembled to have a great time, singing and strumming with sheer joy.

In short, this was a smooth, backyard or back-porch jam session, with generous servings of makamaka. Hence, the monicker for the event, “Na Kupuna Nights,” was fitting; it was a gathering of kupuna performing and kupuna listening and watching. OK, the crowd wasn’t comprised of all seniors, but grey and white hair were plentiful. Everyone was soaking up the aloha, called makamaka.

Santos, of course, is best known as the singer-composer-guitarist of Olomana, the legendary group he led through the rebirth of Hawaiian music in the 1970s, when he was a newbie who became one of the somebodies that helped shape and inspired a generation of entertainers who would become, over time, the emerging stars of the Hawaii over the past three decades.

Na Makamaka, from left: Kuuipo Kumukahi, Jerry Santos, Haunani Apoliona and Ryan Tang

She strums both ukulele and guitar with astounding ease.

Kumukahi, a Hilo native, is a versatile vocalist with a wealth of memories, shared through the songs she learned from her mom. She is one of the most underrated female singers of her generation, who performed with Santos and Olomana for the past two decades. Apoliona, best known for her work with Alu Like and OHA, Hawaiian non-profits, when she wasn’t alternate or fulltime singer with Olomana. She brings a rare touch in local combos, because she is a master of 12-string guitar.

Jerry Santos\

Tang, who also used to be a part of Olomana, has become an intermittent semi-regular. But Olomana, the group, has not had a regular Waikiki gig since the pandemic shuttered all venues and sentenced bands to the unemployment line. And clearly, this Na Kupuna event was not an Olomana show; imagine, this was a rare instance when Santos did not render “E Kuu Home O Kahaluu,” his signature since he and the band became household names, because this was all about makamaka.

Kuuipo Kumukahi

This all-star combo put their voices and instruments out there to share the remembrances of hearty music and life moments past,  beginning their journey with Santos’ “Come to Me Gently,” a warm, retroactive ballad that beckons give-and-take aloha, with its inclusive “Hawaii Is Calling” lyric.

Haunani Apoliona

A gigantic medley of familiar songs – weaving one song after another, like sewing a lei of gentle blossoms – including “Na Ali‘i,” “Wahine Ilikea,” and “Pearly Shells” (well, the Hawaiian version, “Pupu A ‘O ‘’Ewa”). The end product was the abundant esprit of commonality and community, with individuals bonding in oneness. Surely, many in the audience were lip-synching quietly, which is OK and part of this sharing experience.

Not surprising, this generous medley – which ran for perhaps 20 to 25 minutes – also included wonderful visual and aural snapshots of each vocalist and instrumentalist. That is, Santos got some guitar licks in, besides his sweet upper-register tones; Kumukahi, switched from guitar to ukulele, pouring out small-kid-time recollections as well as a song bag of Hilo-related tunes; Apoliona, who has not been part of this kind of musicianship during the pandemic, shared her from-the-gut vocals while doing her 12-string thing; and Tang did harmonies as well as a splendid bass solo, even putting his elbow to work on his electric bass. And his hula-dancing wife, Rae Tang, also shared her talent.

Ray Tang

Kumukahi, often labeled the Sweetheart of Hawaiian Music, shared a song, “Bumbye,” composed by Puakea Nogelmeier for his foster mother, Ululani Kumukahi, who is Ipo’s mom. As she tells it, the Hawaiian scholar-composer wrote the tune when visiting mama Kumukahi when she was in the hospital, and based the hilarious melody and lyrics, in Hawaiian, which was a 2014 Na Hoku Hanohano winner. Daughter Kumukahi “owns” the song, and she delivered with wonderful  gestures whenever she came to the title, a pidgin word for later, not now, bumbye. Got it?

“He Ono,” the tongue-twisting ditty about eating all kinds of food, was another of Kumukahi’s gift for the evening; in Hawaiian, it’s lively stuff; in English, she delivers the lyrics (mentioning the likes of manapua and half moons) which is funny as hell.

Santos made an early declaration, about kupunahood. The evening, sponsored by the Hawaiian Music Perpetuation Society, is all about kokua for kupuna. Santos, with a straight face, said “We are kupuna, too,” admitting the years that all of his musical partners have spent, shaping the face of island music and becoming the face of makamaka.

Thanks for the fellowship and sharing, guys…

And that’s Show Biz. …


Ohana Arts, an organization of theater and musical mentors and their students, made the plunge into the Waikiki mainstream last night (July 12), at Blue Note Hawaii at the Outrigger Waikiki resort.

Clearly, there’s a lot of budding talent among the ranks, with about 25 taking the stage to strut their stuff, joined by a cluster of adults. A premium  list of  in-house entertainer-mentors, like Rocky Brown and Kristian Lei (who have enviable credits in legit Broadway musicals), sharing their talent to Mainland and global audiences and now grooming and inspiring homegrown troupers still earning their stripes.

Rocky Brown

I was curious, about how this group would assemble a cabaret show – a mixed bag of tunes, an uneven level of confidence among the youths – in a venue not generally known for showcasing  local talent seeking their first brush of legitimacy.

Simply, the evening was a work in progress. It was a challenge to fully appreciate a show that doesn’t have a format or a map, like a conventional Broadway musical. Ohana Arts, welcomes challenges and is in the midst of its busiest month  ever. FYI, besides the Blue Note show, it is staging its version of Broadway popular musicials, “Newsies” July 21 at 2 and 7:30 p.m., July 23 at 7:30 p.m., and July 24 at 3 p.m. at the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre at the University of Hawaii, alternately producing “Matilda” on July 22  at 7:30 p.m., July 23 at 3 p.m., and Sunday July 24 at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p. m., at Kennedy Theatre at UH. “Newsies” is nearly sold out. But that’s another story.

As deployed by Ohana Arts, the Blue Note one-nighter reeled off more like a high school talent show, than a cohesive club spectacle,  with one singer followed by another and another and another. The routine swiftly became, well, routine.

However, the core of the evening – the valid talent – was outstanding. Apologies, but I didn’t have road map  (meaning cast list) for this one, so I can’t properly name names of most of the troupers as the charming, enthusiastic emcee, dutifully rattling off a list… from her iPhone.
So it was problematic, for an ignorant spectator, to identify who’s who. The parade had its ups and downs, and the show would have had more impact if it shaped and produced the participants and selections with thematic tweaks. But ambition and pride shined, and since most of the crowd were Ohana Arts families and followers, there were enough cheers and sparks to aid and provide confidence and goodwill to the youngsters.

An evening like this begs for a rousing opening number involving multiple vocalists in a spirited hurrah,  to make us all sit on the edge of our seats  in anticipation. Imagine a youth capable of becoming The Emcee, as in “Cabaret,” and dish up a socko “Wilkommen” opening song. Would have been a howling howdy-do.

In this outing, Jeannine Wong’s (sorry if this isn’t the correct name) “Don’t Rain on My Parade” was a logical  opening song choice, but it was a one-woman parade (not her fault) that needed embellishment perhaps with a few dancers and singers just to perk it up and get noticed.

Kristian Lei

Mentor and professional singer Kristian Lei’s duet with a dude named Tanner (sorry, missed the surname)“The Prayer” had both Broadway pizzazz and operatic voices. Similarly, Rocky Brown’s (another pro) trio version of “A Million Dreams” from “The Greatest Showman” with Sienna and Janell (spelling?) had precisely the kind of charisma that sizzled, when talent helped sell the tune.

Ryan Sousa, a father of an Ohana pupil, excelled in a close-to-the-finale momentum with a sweet, emotional “Bring Him Home” from “Les Misérables.”

Tanner returned to embrace “Music of the Night,” from “Phantom of the Opera,” to extend  and spin the Broadway wheel, followed by a “Wicked” duet of the iconic “I Have Been Changed” song  by an adult duo whose names I don’t want to screw up, so won’t attempt trying, with a grand finale of “You Will Be Found,” from musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” the signature bandaged arm not required (though it would have been a kick if someone had a faux broken left arm) that finally demonstrated the depth and unifying resources in Ohana Arts.The integrated harmonies, and the vastness of the assembly, were impressive.

Ohana Arts’ finale number “You Will Be Found” engaged the entire company.

The presence of emerging local talent hasn’t gone unnoticed by Blue Note, which is making it possible for non-profits like Ohana Arts to make a pitch for a slot, without the normal rental fees, and Blue Note also enabling public support of monetary kokua on its website. Great win-win for all – for organizations eager to mount a cabaret show. …

And that’s Show Biz. …