Kuana Torres Kahele at Blue Note Hawaii


It was the yodeling, ultimately, that set apart this show, filled with sparks, laughter, and Hawaiian culture rarely shared on a Waikiki stage these days.

And on Easter Sunday (April 4), nearly all the troupers were barefooted, except one, at Blue Note Hawaii. It is not uncommon among Hawaiian performers to take the stage sans shoes.

And as a spectator, peering and applauding from behind two layers of Plexiglas, this amounted to a first-rate attraction, but a challenge to review.

So apologies to Kuana Torres Kahele, the host and headliner of two performances at the Outrigger Waikiki venue, and his guest singer, Karen Keawehawaii.

I am not fully acclimated to nor qualified to, fully identify and share kudos to Kahele’s rich catalogue of tunes – several with hula performances, in exquisite and fashionable costumes – so I will dodge listing titles I may misidentify.

Since I did not possess, nor request, a set list, this recap fails to name names of songs. But as Kahele mentioned midway through the second show I attended, he alters his plans anyway. So…I will say this much: His four musicians and dancers are explicitly wired to songs new and old, with accent on rarely-performed melodies from the past, depicting places and stories stretching over the island chain.

Kahele is the showmeister of this tapestry of old-time Hawaii, adapting a few current-time tunes from behind a pandemic-reliant plastic separating his musicians from the audience. “We can see our own reflections,” he observed late in the show. It has to be a distraction to have the see-through barriers stretching nearly the entire course of the stage; from my perch on the showroom’s elevated tier in front of the light and sound booth, there was another veil of plastic protection, yielding more reflections.

Keawehawaii, stationed to the left of the performance zone, occasionally worked minus the plastic, too.

This environment brings out the best of these artists. She is the consummate vocalist, too, disciplined and delightful in both serious and comedic moments.

And she yodels. And she got Kahele to yodel, too.

In a Hawaiian show, this is not that unusual. A yodeling voice requires upper-register falsetto tones, and she’s got that and so does he.

She was outfitted with requisite blooms in her hair; he, too, had his traditional head lei.

Mutual trust is an unstated trait when local performers cultivate a show, knowingly or by instinct, and that is the thrust of this rare species. And Waikiki doesn’t regularly provide performance space for culture and heritage that might be enjoyed and applauded by residents and visitors alike like this event.

All the performers were barefooted, including the pair of Miss Aloha Hula, Tehani Gonzado and Mahealani Mike Solem. Perhaps it’s a trademark of the cultural past, perhaps shoelessness brings out the best jolt of talent.

Keawehawaii donned shoes; maybe it gives her power to yodel with more oomph. Or maybe she didn’t get the memo that it was a shoeless Sunday.

That’s today’s take on a special show on a special day.

PHOTOS: Kahele, left, and Keawehawaii, right.

Shari’s Back, with Power and Pizzazz

Shari Lynn continues to be a queen of song, sharing an impeccable repertoire of jazz, standards, and Broadway favorites. She delivers her music with savvy, style, and simplicity, painting pictures of romance or travels, with her disciplined style punctuated with elocution, presentation and some storytelling.

Her performance last night (April 2) at Medici’s at Manoa Marketplace was yet another triumph of artistry in motion. Power with pizzazz.

Standing in-between dependable and versatile musicians John Kolivas (bass) and Jim Howard (piano) and separated from her spectators with Plexiglas panels indicative of the safety concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic, Shari manages to create moods and moments that play well despite the curtain that provides challenges for singers as more clubs and venues bring live music to audiences.

Opening with “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and ending with a curtain-call “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” she never misses a beat, providing anecdotal insights occasionally as she unveils her song choices.

“Here’s to Life,” a tribute to her late duet partner Jimmy Borges, is sentimental stuff, while “A Tisket, A Tasket” is joyous and timely, a kiddie fave from yesteryear that also has Easter implications. That’s the arc of her appeal

A snappy “On the Sunnyside of the Street,” an oldie now updated on a TV commercial, gives her liberties to change “Rockefeller” In the lyrics to Don Conover, her sometimes keyboarder partner who was in the house. He had another moment, shouting out a response from the audience, during her out-of-the-park “Mama’s Song” rouser from “Gypsy,” with emotional relevance of missed dreams. Everything doesn’t come up roses unless you work hard to achieve goals, so a bouquet of roses for Shari for this one.

But Shari knows how to pick ‘em. “Send in the Clowns,” the Stephen Sondheim signature from “A Little Night Music” is the essence of an actress with a bona fide stage voice that makes the right connection with the spectators.

She also has empathy; like the rest of us, she misses traveling due to the restrictions of Covid-19, so “Let’s Get Away From It All” was panacea for planning a future trek.

Just as her followers who’ve missed her club work here, “I Love Being Here With You” was her declaration of her glee to be chirping again. And she respects her musicians, giving solo and instrumental time (like the Duke Ellington moment) to spotlight their pedigree.

The Medici’s setting, spruced up with faux greenery and blooms, resembles an indoor garden where a singer like Shari can shine in full-bloom glory. Club proprietors Tim and Carolyn Stanton (he’s the chef, she’s the front-of-the-house honcho) also have had to adapt to the times; his imaginative served meals (no more buffets, alas, replaced by set menus from soup to dessert) require additional servers; she has new duties checking temperatures, logging names and monitoring facemasks upon check-in.

Shari returns to Medici’s on May 21.

PHOTOS: Shari solo, Shari with Kolivas on bass, Howard (hidden) on piano.

Thanks for having my back

I am not alone.

Seems a lot of people have back pain issues. It’s a common ailment among the elderly and a regular conversation topic.

I’m lucky, however; a lot of folks have my back, supportive of a medical procedure I underwent last Tuesday (March 30) at Queen’s Medical Center.

I’ve struggled with chronic lower back pain for a couple of decades, but always dodged the customary back surgery … because many people, including my primary spine doctor, said to seek alternate means to manage pain since the recovery could be as painful as the operation.

So when I located a pain management doctor who introduced me to a procedure where a battery could be inserted into my body – a stimulator that could manage pain through electronic charges wired to the battery – I signed up.

During a trial week, an external battery bandaged to my back and hooked to wires placed under my skin; the test confirmed I was good candidate for the real deal.

So now I’m recuperating at home, feeling like a bionic man with the battery near my butt and wiring inserted in my spine.

It’s been a curious challenge since. The pain recurs, but I can’t discern if it’s from the wounds of the incision, or my regular back aches, doing its occasional dance. I think it’s a combination of both.

I imagine the pain levels may see-saw, but I have a device that resembles a mini iPhone, which can regulate the power of the jolts: up when needed, down when not.

This new procedure means I won’t have to go in for cortisone shots every three months, which was a regular thing. The shots worked, but the level of relief returned sooner than later.

I’ll have the bandaging removed next Wednesday (April 7) then monitor life with a hidden implant.

This whole episode at least brought a LOL moment, from my cousin emailed me after I sent a photo of me on a gurney at Queen’s prior to being wheeled into the operating room. When she saw me in the required blue head net, she commented: “All I could think about when I saw your pic was, ‘Everything is better with blue bonnet on it…”

Wayne Harada — with hair net and face mask — at Queen’s Hospital Same Day Surgery.

A Full Year

A year ago (on March 29, 2020), my “Show Biz” column in the Star-Advertiser, made history. It was shut down under dubious circumstances; I was told (falsely) that the coronavirus crisis, which was worsening and affecting the economy, was the reason for terminating the column.

Free-lance writers for the paper were being released to reduce expenses, the decision coming “from the top,” I was led to believe.

It was a lie because at that point, only two contributors were eliminated from the columnist rank. Me and travel writer Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi. The features editor told me that when conditions improved, the column(s) might be reinstated.

Ha! It was pau for good.

I agreed that if times were tough, yes, contributors should be the first to go, to protect full-timers from furloughs.

Ha! again. No other freelancers were terminated.

A year later, neither Cheryl nor I have been offered a chance to reboot. She continues to contribute travel articles in other resources.

I became fully retired and turned to Facebook to post reviews, share entertainment and other chatter, and communicate with former friends and new followers as I began enjoying the freedom of retirement and the uncertainty of unemployment.

The paper has moved on, too, with minimal concern for the performing arts, with diminished coverage and combining sections into bizarre Siamese twins.

I focus on my hobby, creating notecards and holiday-themed lapel pins that folks now wear as accessories on their facemasks. Earlier, I finished a batch of Valentine’s stuff, then Easter projects, and will focus later in the year on Halloween and Christmas.

It’s all a hobby, not a job. No revenue, but tons of fun.

By now, I normally would be planning trips – to Japan and New York – but both destinations are still not ready to welcome visitors nor am I ready to go. Yes, seeing the cherry blossoms in Japan would be joyful; and my passion for Broadway shows will have to wait till later this year, or perhaps next year, when pandemic threats are gone.

So my new normal has already happened. I make time for what I enjoy, with no rigid scheduling. And yes, seniorhood brings health issues, and I will have yet another procedure done at Queen’s this week – aiming to minimize and reduce chronic lower back pains. I have PT sessions twice a week with a personal trainer, who helps me with a regimen that encompasses exercise aimed at maintaining a healthy life.

Strangely, I’ve been busier than ever. The coronavirus tiers now allow more social gatherings and I hope to catch up and schedule more breakfasts and lunches and dinners in the months ahead.

And time is fluid; often on a Wednesday, it feels like Saturday. My calendar has monthly entries for doc visits, PT, and maybe a meal get-together. I can do cat naps a couple of times a week, follow trending shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and still have time for my crafts.

Hard to believe, but I had been writing the column for more than 50 years, 45 years as a hired hand, another 10 after retiring in 2008.

Aside from trips, I miss my weekend movies. So far, Consolidated has yet to program blockbusters, so there’s no reason to visit the cinema when “Nomadland” is streamed on Netflix. I’ve bought tickets to Diamond Head Theatre performances and next week, I’ll likely take in a live show at Blue Note Hawaii for the first time since 2020.

It doesn’t seem like it’s been already a year since I uttered my parting line in print, “And that’s Show Biz”…

Robert Cazimero at Chef Chai’s

It was imperfect, but Robert Cazimero’s return to the limelight last night (March 28) at Chef Chai’s was momentous and a measure of what the local show biz has been lacking for months.

Cazimero’s gig, dubbed the Full Moon Concert, had been a monthly fave at Chai’s, linked to the lunar calendar. It was sidelined last year by the pandemic, so the homecoming of one of Hawaii’s luminous troupers drew a full house.

But like a vehicle idled for an extended time, Cazimero had to pull the throttles, step on the gas, and look in the rear mirror to find his footing. Behind his keyboard, he’s a master, but it took an effort to get his engine purring.

The format here is sharing moods and memories, a structure that allows him to cruise with tunes from all genres, and in the driver’s seat, he doesn’t speed, he coasts and maneuvers his ride without a formal agenda nor a GPS. Thus, it’s a ride that’s equally familiar yet unexpected, because he and his viewers have been on that road before.

It’s curious that the car-ride Hawaiian oldie, “Holo Holo Kaa,” was among the fare, with his two hula dancers, Sky Perkins Gora and Bully Keola Makaiau, chugging along joyfully. This punctuated the evening of magical memories.

Surely, the tapestry of tunes – “Rainbow Connection,” “Keawaiki,” “My Sweet Pikake Lei,” “Waikiki,” “Always,” “At Home in the Islands” – painted a reflective tone of a casual party.

Folks in the audience – Manu Boyd, singing and dancing, Cha Thompson hulaing — joined the celebration. From her seat, singer Nina Keali’iwahamana Rapozo was mouthing the lyrics, simulating a duet with Cazimero, several times.

Of course, there were a couple of Cazimero charm; he shared local-style sing-along ditties, tapping “Happy Birthday,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “I’m. Little Teapot,” “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” “You Are My Sunshine.” Cute, crazy, Cazimero stuff.

Then not surprisingly, he closed his set with a Christmas song he learned back in the day from the late Mahi Beamer. Who else could get away with a yuletide gift now?

Future Full Moon Concerts are scheduled for April 25, May 27, June 24 and July 23. Reservations: 585-0011 or www.chefchai.com.