HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – “The Music Man” Comes to Hilo

By Kelly Moran

“The Music Man” Comes to Hilo

I’m interrupting my discussion of living off-the-grid to let you know that some of the best local actors and musicians stage a Broadway musical every October at Hilo’s Palace Theater, and this year’s (Eighth Annual) Fall Musical is “The Music Man” by Meredith Willson.

I have a friend who’s a singer and band-leader here, but right now he’s a member of the cast. So I’m going to turn this blog entry over to Hal Glatzer, and let him tell you about the show … 

Hilo's Palace Theater“‘The Music Man’. . . is that the one with ’76 Trombones’?” Yes it is. And you know that because you have almost certainly seen it before: perhaps in the movies, on TV, or on a local stage somewhere. It was even the inaugural musical for the new UH Hilo Performing Arts Center, in 1974. So, you may think it’s merely a valentine to small-town America, with old-fashioned music. And indeed it is that, too. But like many great works of art, it seems simple on the surface only because it’s complex underneath.


“The Music Man,” which premiered in 1957, is among the cleverest pieces of musical theater in the history of the American stage, and easily one of the best “book-musicals” ever. (In Broadway parlance, a book-musical – unlike a “revue” of songs and skits – tells a coherent dramatic story, with songs that advance the plot and/or deepen your understanding of the characters.)

Into stodgy River City, Iowa, on the Fourth of July, 1912, comes Harold Hill, a con-man posing as a music “professor” who will organize a marching band, and teach the local children to play, so they’ll stay out of the pool hall. Of course, he’s really there to fleece the townsfolk and skip out with their money just as the band uniforms arrive. But unexpectedly, he’s touched by the sadness of a small boy; and he falls in love with the boy’s sister, the local librarian, who sees right though his scam and is all set to bust him.

Meredith Willson had a long career as a composer and arranger for big bands, radio orchestras, and movie scores. He wrote “The Music Man” – book, music and lyrics – at the height of his powers, combining many of the American musical theater’s best components into a single show.

* Memorable characters in a believable situation, inspired by the playwright’s own Iowa boyhood.

* Beautiful love songs, the most famous being “Till There Was You,” which The Beatles also recorded.

* Funny, fast-talking raps – Willson called them “speak-songs” – not only Harold Hill’s grifter pitch “Ya Got Trouble,” but the entire opening scene with a railroad-rhythm chorus of traveling salesmen.

* Four-part harmony numbers that have become “standards” for barbershop quartets everywhere.

* And “double-songs.” Three of the songs in the show turn into six, when a different melody line, fresh lyrics and a change of rhythm form a counterpoint to those that were sung before. In this musical legerdemain, one of those beautiful love songs – the waltz, “Goodnight, My Someone” – is soul-mated to the show’s signature march (you guessed it) “76 Trombones.”

Willson wrote a short book, called “But He Doesn’t Know the Territory,” about how the show came to be. [Long out of print, a new edition was published this year by the University of Minnesota Press.] The title quotes the traveling salesmen’s hapless complaint about their rival, Harold Hill; but it’s also what thespian snobs were saying, in effect, when they predicted that Willson’s debut musical, set in small-town Iowa, would flop on Broadway. It didn’t. The original production won five Tony Awards, beat out (New York’s own) “West Side Story” for Best Musical honors, and ran for more than 1,300 performances.

Our Hilo production showcases great local talent. Jim Thompson is the slick Harold Hill, Corey Paglinawan is lovely Marian the librarian. Steve Peyton is the blustery mayor, with Jeri Gertz his haughty wife. Don Moody is Hill’s goofy pal Marcellus, and Nathan Sullivan is sad young Winthrop. Arval Shipley directs the show, with choreography by Lina Manning; musical director Cheryl “Quack” Moore conducts the orchestra.

Watching these folks in top form, I’m sure you’ll gain a new appreciation for Willson’s achievement. “The Music Man” is a feel-good show in the best sense: you won’t be embarrassed to say it made you feel good.

Evening performances of “The Music Man” start at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays Oct. 9 & 10, 16 & 17 and 23 & 24. Sunday matinees start at 2 p.m. on Oct. 18 and 25. Advance-sale tickets are $15; $12 for ages 12 and under or for Palace Friends. At the door, tickets are $20 and $15, respectively. The box office is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Phone the Palace at 808-934-7010 for more information and credit card orders.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Elections – Local Style

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Elections – Local Style

By Kelly Moran

Another political season has officially begun. The deadline for filing papers has now passed, and a total of 72 people on the Big Island are gearing up for the federal, state and county posts that will be filled this year. The island may be big, but the population is small, and most people here know the names of their County Council member, their State Representative and their State Senator. Live here long enough, and you will surely get to meet your elected officials in person.

Don’t expect any endorsements from me. What I will do, though, is tell you what to expect as election time rolls around.

If you are registered to vote on the Big Island, but can’t come to do so in person, you can cast an absentee ballot. You have until one week before the September 20 primary and November 4 general election (Sept. 13 and Oct. 28, respectively) to obtain your absentee ballots at the Office of the County Clerk’s elections division.

While the County Building is being renovated, that office has moved to the old Hilo Iron Works building, on Kam Ave. beside the Wailoa River, across from the Suisan fish market.

  And if you are going to be here soon, but not on the actual election days, you can vote there, in person, any weekday during the two weeks beforehand, i.e., starting Sept. 8 and again starting Oct. 21.

Term-limits prevent our two-term mayor from running again, and eight people have filed to run for his seat, including one of the mayor’s aides, a state senator who was formerly a mayor, and two County Council members. In Hawaii you can not keep one elected position while you run for another, so each of the latter three jobs has also opened up, making the field in this year’s primary elections unusually crowded.

Three local races, however, are already decided, because no one filed to compete against two incumbent State Representatives, nor against the incumbent County Prosecutor (who had no opponent in 2004, either). Candidates can often be seen standing at busy intersections, during the morning and evening commute-times, waving at passing cars. Of course, they can’t be everywhere at once, so supporters and surrogates stand and wave in their stead. But often, you’ll see them standing alongside a life-size cutout photo of their candidate, who’s been posed with arm raised, waving, too.

You’ll also see many small campaign signs in front yards, and along the roads. But Hawaii’s strict anti-billboard laws prohibit huge signage; and all electioneering signs are supposed to be removed soon after election day.

That won’t change. But a big change is coming to the political process in the next election season: the Big Island’s State Representatives and Senators persuaded their colleagues to enact legislation that establishes a pilot project for public financing of local Council elections in 2010.

The Democratic and Republican Parties will hold pre-election rallies the night before the primary and general elections. These are big, noisy celebrations where, despite the rivalries, there is always a shared sense of joy. Remember: we all live here on this beautiful island, and as voters, we all share the responsibility to ensure it is managed in the public interest.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – It’s a Mystery Why Fans Would Come Here


By Kelly Moran

It’s a Mystery Why Fans Would Come Here

Left Coast Crime

People who enjoy mystery stories are a funny lot. They relish tales of murder and mayhem, but when they get together to talk about dastardly deeds, they tend to pick meeting-places with remarkably low crime-rates. Like the Big Island.

If you’re among the myriad folks who have a passion for, uhh . . . crimes of passion, then you might want spend next March 7-12 here.

“Say Aloha to Murder” is the theme of next year’s Western Regional Mystery Conference. Better known as Left Coast Crime, it’s been run since 1991 by and for mystery fans, and is generally held in the western (left side, as you face the map) states. Next year the LCC is on a “left coast,” at Marriott’s Waikoloa Beach Resort.

A typical LCC includes discussion-groups on various genres of mystery fiction, like police-procedurals, suspenseful thrillers, detectives’ cases, raditional “cozies,” or crimes of the (“woo-woo”) supernatural world. Also presentations about true crime, by law-enforcers and crime-lab experts. And at this LCC, of course, an intensive focus on mysteries, real and otherwise, set in Hawaii. Widely-read authors are the guests-of-honor. There’s even a ghost-of-honor: Earl Derr Biggers, who created Charlie Chan. And someone will win the Lefty Award for writing the funniest mystery novel of the year.

An un-conventional convention, yes; but not amateurish. According to a published mystery-writer who lives here on the Big Island, the organizers have in California run both an LCC and a Bouchercon (the biggest mystery convention); and they have hosted unrelated conventions at the Waikoloa hotel for more than ten years.

Of course, LCC is still ten months away. But with recent uncertainties in the travel industry, a wise visitor should plan next-year’s visits at least as far ahead as a criminal might plan the next caper.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND: Farmers’ Markets Rock


Farmers’ Markets Rock 
          Hilo foodies have not one but two farmers’ markets for fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Hilo Farmers’ Market, which was started ten years ago, is held in an empty lot downtown on Kam Ave. at Mamo St., across from the bus station and the bandstand.  The variety of produce there is enormous, although some offerings, such as sweet Maui onions, come from other islands.  A few stalls open every day, from dawn until about mid-afternoon; but on Wednesdays and Saturdays the market is enormous, with dozens of stalls that spread across and up Mamo St. into several other empty lots.  Besides food, on those days, vendors offer aloha shirts and muumuus, collectibles, and handicrafts – some of which are locally made, though most are imported from Asia and other Pacific islands.

          The market has some ongoing issues.  The nearest restrooms are across Kam Ave. in the bus station.  Tents and tarps overhead have to be set up and taken down so often that many of them leak in the rain, creating huge puddles.  And the rough gravel underfoot, uncomfortable for many people, is an obstacle course for the physically challenged.

          In 2007, a competing market opened on Kinoole St. near Puainako St., in the parking lot of a small shopping center.  The Kinoole Farmers’ Market is much smaller than the downtown market, but its vendors are required to offer only locally-grown produce.  Shoppers there also find more exotic varieties of fruit and vegetables, and a wider selection of garden and orchard plants in containers.  Though it’s far from the center of town, it’s easy to park at, and – being on pavement – easy to get around in.  It’s open only on Saturdays, from dawn to noon; so dedicated foodies usually go there first.

          The downtown market, however, is due for improvement.  Keith De La Cruz, the “Market Master,” recently obtained permission from the County to erect a two-story market building on the main Kam Ave.-Mamo St. lot.  It will have a smooth concrete slab floor at ground level; restrooms and a restaurant upstairs, along with some offices, including his.  Almost no one is opposed to this project, and if it gets built – as De La Cruz hopes, within in the next year or two –  it would be a new “anchor” for downtown businesses, and could even spur improvements to the bus station and bandstand park across the way.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Hilo for Hula! Merrie Monarch Festival


HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Hilo for Hula! 

       There’s one week a year when every hotel room in Hilo is booked solid, and it’s not during Summer vacations or Winter holidays.  It’s the week of the Merrie Monarch Festival – March 30-April 5, this year – when Hilo celebrates its status as the world capital of hula.

          King David Kalakaua (dubbed the “merrie monarch” for his joie-de-vivre) liked to have the Islands’ ancient dances performed.  This upset the missionaries and haole educators who had long tried to suppress the native culture and language.  But Kalakaua understood that, for the Hawaiians – with no previously written language – hula was a kind of cultural language, ideal for telling stories and passing on myths, and that it ought to be preserved for future generations.  So, the world’s largest hula festival is named in his honor.

          But a royal command alone did not – could not – keep hula going.  After the overthrow of the monarchy, puritanical attitudes again prevailed, and for most of the twentieth century hula was denigrated as mere entertainment.  The careful movements of hands and bodies that had evolved to tell complex tales were crudely simplified to fit tourists’ expectations of something “Hawaiian.” (The cliché of grass skirts and twirling hips, by the way, is actually Tahitian.)  And for much the same reasons as girls elsewhere took piano lessons, girls in Hawaii took hula lessons.  Boys, however, did not – like ballet, hula was considered an effeminate pursuit.

          But then, seemingly overnight, in the 1970s, hula came roaring back.  Along with the revival of traditional Hawaiian folk music (see Posts: “Hawaii Musics (Plural)” – Part 1 & Part 2) with which some styles of hula were closely associated, there was a renewed interest in Hawaiian legends, language, and traditional handicrafts, many of which also had links to hula. And the surviving kumu hula (masters/teachers of hula) attracted new acolytes.

But the tipping point came when two of the Islands’ most celebrated musicians – the Cazimero Brothers – started a hula halau (school) for men.  Before European contact, the biggest, strongest Hawaiian men danced high-energy, athletic forms of hula.  And now, in the Merrie Monarch Festival, it’s the beefcake troupes in the male hula competitions that draw the loudest cheers.


           The top competitive events are held on the last three (Thurs., Fri. and Sat.) nights; and if you haven’t already gotten tickets, you probably can’t get them now: they go on sale for only one week, at the beginning of each year, and sell out almost immediately.  But those competitions will be televised, live, so you can watch them anywhere in the state.

          Every other event, all week long, is free.  Informal hula shows are presented each weekday at noon, at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and the Naniloa Volcanoes Hotel, on Banyan Drive.  There’s a huge arts-and-crafts fair, with many handicrafts related to hula and Hawaiian music; and a big parade winds through downtown Hilo, starting at 10:30 Saturday morning (Apr. 5).

          Admission to the big Wednesday night (Apr. 2) show – though not a competition – is also free.  Just be sure to get to the stadium early, because it will fill up with local families long before the 6:30 starting time.  It’s worth noting that although that venue was originally built as a tennis stadium, it’s Hilo’s largest performance space, and it’s named in honor of the late Edith Kanaka’ole, the Big Island’s most famous kumu hula.

          For more information, call 808-935-9168, or visit the Merrie Monarch Festival’s website, at: