You may not have noticed that Waikiki suffered a nutrient deficiency over the past few months. The sun still shone, the surf rolled, the tourists spent, but a showroom was empty and tiny bubbles were nowhere to be found. Actually they were in Thailand.
Plagued by heart problems throughout much of 2005, Don Ho finally bit the bullet in November, canceled his show and traveled all the way to Bangkok for some experimental stem cell replacement. For anyone who knows Uncle Don, or ‘Pops’ as he’s commonly monikered, a canceled Don Ho Show is as rare as a snowed-out football game in Hawai’i. This was serious stuff.
Good news: Pops is back singing ‘Tiny Bubbles,’ poking gentle fun at newlyweds and anniversary couples, showcasing local talent and perpetuating the Hawai’i of yesteryear like no one else can. His heart? Still in the wait-and-see phase but in the right place.
Last Sunday’s welcome-back performance packed in just enough local celebs to give Ho a good workout although it’s not likely a predictable sample of his show post-Thailand. There were no adolescent tourists leiing each other, no Ho kid singersÃƒâ€“there was no time. Instead, Ho shared the spotlight with local vocal legends Nina Keali’iwahamana, Jimmy Borges, Marlene Sai, Melveen Leed and show staples Tokyo Joe and Angel Pablo, to name but a few. Andy Bumatai had the audience in stitches with jokes about the Mainland and about interisland jetlag–‘For you it might be 8 o’clock, for me it’s like 8:05.’
If you haven’t been to the Don Ho Show in a couple of years (what? never?) you probably haven’t seen teen ‘ukulele-wonder Taimane Gardner. She doesn’t just play an instrument–she possesses it. Hear the medley she calls ‘Led Zeppelin Meets Beethoven at the Don Ho Show’ and you’ll see what we mean.
Although the ‘secondary’ acts helped the audience members forget why they were there, Pops finally appeared a good half-hour into the show–a little less hair, a little bit thin, but with the same biting wit and warm baritone he always had. He didn’t talk much about his stem cells–there was too much entertainment to be shared. Surrounded by his talented band–Benny Chong, Dennis Graue, Eddie Maligmat and Sonny Froman–and right-hand woman, hula dancer, executive producer, Haumea Hebenstreit, Ho inspired two standing ovations from the mostly local, mostly older crowd.
What about Gen Xers and beyond? ‘I don’t know most of those songs,’ said 31-year old Kevin, adding, ‘But it makes you feel like a kid again. It has an atmosphere of everything fun.’
###>BYLINE Becky Maltby