With little fanfare, a splendid Polynesian show, “Pa‘ina Waikiki,” was launched June 2 at the Marriott Beach Waikiki Resort and Spa. It has all the fingerprints and finery that distinguish a Tihati Productions endeavor.

The luau show, in a reimagined open-air space beyond the third-floor swimming pool in what used to be the Hawaiian Regent Hotel decades ago, is everything you’d expect from a Tihati experience, meaning pageantry with mele and hula; tales of the Pacific specifically tailored to the Waikiki location of the Marriott; a fashion show of sorts since the costumes are bright, authentic and stylish; and pre-show hands-on arts and cultural lessons in lei-making and tattooing.

If that’s not enough, at the end of the production, visitors can go on stage to acquire quickie lessons in Samoan and Tahitian dancing, with attractive and handsome cast members as teachers. Out-of-towners are willing and wonderful in this concluding camaraderie of performers and patrons.

Because the site is smaller than most Tihati shows, the evening is a lot more intimate and thus very engaging for the spectators.

Count ‘em, if you will: this is the 12th Tihati show statewide overseen by company president Afatia Thompson and his sister Misty Thompson Tufono, who are the son and daughter, respectively, of legendary Jack and Cha Thompson, who turned over the business to the siblings while still serving as cultural mentors.

This show also is history in the making, marking a next-generation milestone, since children of Afa and Misty (and grandkids of the founders) are prominently and actively engaged in the delivery of the sweet Hawaiian mele and drumbeating exhibition of Samoan, Tahitian and Tonga songs and dances.

Tihati Thompson, 6, is the youngest fire knife dancer.

Afa’s and wife Nicole’s kids featured include hula girl Bella Thompson, notably on a hula about Kuhio Beach, and her brother Matagi Thompson, part of the lineup of male dancers;  at 6, Tihati Thompson – truly a cutie patootie – is the youngest cast member and the resident keiki fire knife dancer with an astonishing skill  and stage presence as he whirls and twirls his kid-size knife with flares on both ends.

Summer will herald more kinfolk. Misty’s daughter Mokihana Tufono will join the dancers when she returns from UCLA; her brother, Maninoa, also has joined the ranks.

Captains for the revue are Wallen Thompson Teo, son of Jack and Cha’s eldest daughter Ruana Thompson Teo, who is male captain; his wife, Lupe Tauiliili Teo, is female captain. Another male line dancer, expected this summer, is Ruana’s other son, Eli Thompson Teo.

The Tihati tradition requires that all performers, in lead roles or in ensembles, must learn the songs and dances for all of the company’s productions, so most troupers bounce from one show to another.

Brandon Mafua is a congenial, conversational emcee.

Brandan Mafua, an eight-year member of the Tihati troupe, is a likeable emcee, who not only is welcoming and congenial, but delivers historical factoids about why a song is embraced here, and the history surrounding the tune or environs; it’s all handily researched material scripted by Misty, company vice president, who clearly has a vault of knowledge blending entertaining motives and simultaneously embracing educational history. And Mafua’s easy-going conversational style is a plus.

Tihati hula sweetie , in pareu

Afa is resident choreographer and director of the spectacle. His moves, backed by a versatile house band, captures the flavors and tempos of the galaxy of Polynesian nations. The Tihati Serenaders, led by  percussionist Alex Galeia‘i, includes guitarists Travis Kaka and Josei  Alfonsi, and bassist Dennis Keohokalole, whose vocal harmonies and heartbeat drumming, exhibit the syncopation of  all the South Seas nations.

Makayla Arakaki is the wahine keiki solo dancer.

Makayla Arakaki is wahine keiki solo dancer, and Mika‘ele Oloa, five-time champion fire knife dancer, is one of the most seasoned of the breed. And he earns the hurrahs and applause with his fire knife dancing and fire-eating style, a stunning finale for the evening.

Mika‘ele Oloa is the adult fire knife dancer — and fire eater.

The spectrum of music entails tunes associated  with some of Hawaii’s alii, like Queen Kapiolani and Prince Kuhio, and links zones where they lived or partied. The show acknowledges a show from the past, Puka Puka Otea, once ensconced at nearby Queen’s Surf, and remembers R. Alex Anderson’s iconic hapa-haole composition, “Lovely Hula Hands,” and also pays homage to Hawaiian surfers, then and now.

Wahine dancers, in traditional ti-leaf skirts.

Tihati costumes continue to project bright, festive, and fun motifs – from ti leaf skirts to grass skirts, from surf wear to area-specific costumes in more colors than a rainbow, from reds to greens, from purple to blue, with detailed accents from head to toe (lei, shell necklaces, lauhala hats, etc.). Well, footwear are not ever utilized here; dancers always perform barefoot, but ankles sometimes display trinkets.

Male dancers, in modern surfing shorts.

Actually, there are two shows – one preview prior to dinner in daylight,  the other the formal revue with appropriate nightlife lighting – so arrive early so you don’t miss anything.

Kudos to Jerry Gibson, veteran hotelier, and a Marriott executive who has been a pioneering supporter of island shows large and small. His valued leadership has provided time and space for many shows, informal and formal, to keep the pulse of Hawaii and Polynesia alive. Where most hotels have abandoned shows – remember when all major Waikiki hotels all had showrooms as a venue for performers and an amenity for visitors? – and perhaps this is a post-pandemic jump start for more newbies to enter the race and pace of keeping Hawaii Hawaiian.

Yes, this is Tihati’s 12th endeavor in Hawaii – but shhhhh.  Two more projects are in the works. If you build it, they will come.


“Pa‘ina Waikiki”

A Polynesian spectacle and lu’au,  staged by Tihati Productions

Where: Third floor of the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

When: 5:15 to 8 p.m. Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Cost: $110-$170, general seating; $150 to $200, VIP seating. Buffet dinner included.

Reservations: www.painawaikiki.com

And that’s Show Biz …

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