Times change, and The Waynies – this column’s usual who’s-best and who’s-not recap of the past year – also is reimagined this year.
Let’s face it. The fading 2021 year has been better than 2020, when the pandemic pretty much shut down everything and erased normalcy.
We’re not quite over the hill and on the mountain peak yet, especially in the entertainment genre. Activities are scanty; audiences still are somewhat fearful to go out in numbers.
So joyful is not the buzzword yet. Perhaps hopeful defines the present overall picture and mood.
In that spirit, we’re listing a different brand of The Waynies. Mostly, this has been a season of small hurrahs but promising growth and accomplishments.
So, onward with the revelation and recapitulation:
- Best series set in Hawaii: Disney+’s “Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.”which is anticipating a second season pickup in the coming weeks. It’s a show that glows with island faces, knows the heartbeat of the local community, and reflects a vivid lifestyle of island living with a super duper cast led by Peyton Elizabeth Lee in the titular role of Lahela, who is not local, but pure hapa, surrounded by actors who portray genuine folks. Jason Scott Lee, in particular, is the best depiction of locals, as husband and father Benny Kamealoha who operates a floral/shave ice truck. Matt Sato as Kai Kamealoha, one of the sons, is the show’s breakout star. The series, written by Kourtney Kang, tapped the late Al Harrington as Uncle John, who earlier co-starred in the original “Hawaii Five-0,” in his final TV role. The show did the obvious in the finale: posting a loving memorial.
- Best launch of a Hawaii-based series, CBS’ “NCIS: Hawai’i.” The rightful addition of the ‘okina in Hawai‘i” was a start, diacritically speaking. A big deal has been made about the franchise showcasing its first woman lead in Vanessa Lachey as Jane Tennant, but what matters more is the modest hiring of locals in lead roles; the Polynesian/Asian blend is visible, but casting neglected an opportunity for a bona fide citizen actor to share co-starring promise, a common practice for network TV. ””NCIS,” like the reboots of two earlier CBS series that set anchors here (“Magnum P.I,” and “Hawaii Five-O”), took the easy way out by neglecting a bona fide local who could earn his/her stripes given the chance.
- Worst depiction of islanders: “The White Lotus,” Mike White’s HBO-Max series set on Maui without specifying the site, had drama and melodrama aplenty, but little respect for islanders making a living at a ritzy resort. The intent was to portray a motley crew of bored, bickering, entitled and unruly travelers complaining about anything and everything; the bigger picture — the show disrespected the hospitality industry. The one savvy character: a son of one of the rich families paddled to his dream future by disbanding his ‘ohana. The one sparkplug in the bunch was Jennifer Coolidge, as Tanya McQuoid, a wounded, vulnerable and dazed traveler, with a mission to scatter her mom’s ashes in a silver box. Since director-writer White intends to relocate “Lotus” in another locale for round two of his storytelling, he’d be wise to sign on his lucky charmer, Coolidge.
- Best theatrical booster shot: “Hamilton” finally is heading here in 2022, one of three fresh musicals in the first-ever Broadway “series” of shows. The other newbies are “Beautiful, the Carole King Musical,” and “Jersey Boys,” the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons bio-musical, which is excluded from the season package because it was booked and postponed and finally rescheduled. But the cat’s out of the bag again – “Cats,” a perennial touring show, is part of the three-show series, largely for folks who’ve not yet seen nor heard “Memory” in the context of the musical.
- Speaking of theater: shout-outs to two Hawaii actors in “Hamilton;” Marc delaCruz is in the New York company, Joseph Morales is back in a national touring company portraying the titular role originated by the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. And the company Morales is touring with is the one that is supposedly heading our way, so I’ve been urging producers of the Hawaii visit to ensure decision-makers to make sure Morales is part of the cast. That would be such a vibrant homecoming and a victory lap for him.
- The power of plexiglas was everywhere and still is in vogue in restaurants and banks. It was Benjamin, in the 1967 film “The Graduate,” who was told the future was in plastic, well before the pandemic forced merchants dealing with crowds here and abroad. Kudos to Blue Note Hawaii, one of the first showcases that dismantled its wall of plastic on stage. Won’t someone tell the folks at Medici’s to do the same?
- The spirit award goes to Henry Kapono. He and his org have been everywhere; in a series of Blue Note Hawaii shows; at Duke’s at the Outrigger Waikiki; neighbor island jaunts; on TV commercials; a planned “Legends of Hawaii” tour with Keola Beamer next year; with regular Henry Kapono Foundation matters to tend to.
- The musical marvel nod to Shari Lynn, whose annual biggie is a holiday season gig at Medici’s at Manoa Markertplace. When she’s not singing, she is a music teacher at Hawaii School for Girls at La Pietra, though retiring in 2022. Until COVID nixed it, she was the heart beat of the Sunset Jazz event at La Pietra. She is a photo hobbyist who creates travel photos into notecards; and she and hubby Michael are parents of a new furry pup, Lui (short for Luigi). Who could ask for anything more?
- The bright-as-a-moon laurel, to Robert Cazimero, who rules over a Full Moon Concert at Chef Chai’s on Kapiolani Boulevard. Like a full moon, he shines and glows with serenades from behind the grand piano Chai Chaowasaree bought for him to invest in a monthly musical moonfest. The continuity is a marvel, with humble beginnings when Chai’s was a bistro/show space for local troupers at Aloha Tower Marketplace. A rare and generous bond; folks continue to support the music artistry and the culinary treats, a rare example of a chef’s commitment to provide a tuneful amenity for patrons, even during the pandemic social distancing and face masking rules.
- The grand reopening of movie and stage theaters has been a welcome and joyous opportunity to see blockbusters on a large screen with all the bells and whistles of technology (compared to streaming a film at home) and live actors on stage in person. Even if you have to don a face mask. Amenities vary; the lounge seats are popular but expensive and the snacks are costly, at the movie houses (where sale prices of bottles of water would get you a full case at Longs or Target). As the year ends, the stage theaters are still not fully back-to-normal, awaiting cues from city officials and self-monitoring the surge of COVID and Omicron to address the distancing issues. Still, there’s hope; Manoa Valley Theatre is restoring the printed playbills for its next show — which were missing in action from both MVT and Diamond Head Theatre productions. …
And that’s Show Biz. …