HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
Hilo’s Palace Theater
Back in the 1920s, going to the movies was a big occasion. People dressed up to see and be seen; they chatted in the lobby, about the latest films, and enjoyed a sense of being guests in a fabulously decorated . . .
The Palace Theater in downtown Hilo, which opened in 1925, is one of only two “picture-palaces” still open in Hawaii. (Honolulu lost its exotic Waikiki Theater to demolition, leaving only the grand Hawaii Theater near Chinatown.) As with other surviving picture-palaces around the country, nowadays, a not-for-profit organization – the Friends of the Palace Theater – is responsible for upkeep and restoration. And like those other theaters, too, the Palace hosts film-festivals and classic movies: on Halloween night, it will screen the 1920 silent “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” with live theater-organ accompaniment.
But Hilo’s Palace does much more than just show films: with 450 seats, it’s an important local venue for theatrical presentations, a variety of performing artists, and even community meetings.
Take musicals. For the seventh year in a row, the Palace is presenting a full-scale Broadway-style musical (last year, it was “The Wizard of Oz”), with a huge cast of local actors, including children and teenagers. If you can get to Hilo in the next two weeks, you’ll be able to see “Once Upon One Nodda Time.” It’s a pidgin-inflected musical of fractured fairy-tales, wherein the Three Little Pigs are chased by a huffing-and-puffing mongoose; Snow White gets both a poisoned apple from “The” Wicked Queen and a poisoned papaya from “Da” Wicked Queen; and there’s a croaking chorus of (what else?) cane-toad bufos and coqui frogs.
Performers who make concert appearances on the Palace stage range from Honolulu slack-key stars to internationally renowned classical violinists to world-music percussionists. Every Wednesday at 11 a.m. there’s a 45-minute program of Hawaiiana that’s free for kids. And one evening last month, the Palace hosted a town-meeting on the subject of downtown improvement projects, with real-time opinion polling by electronic touch-pads. (FYI: most people want to see new housing built downtown, and a naturalistic park along the Wailuku River.)
In short, there’s no place in town like the historic Palace Theater. And Hilo is darned lucky to have it.