Live From Waikiki

‘Waikiki nei’ opens at a new theater in the Royal Hawaiian Center

By: By Kenneth Shapiro

The Details

Waikiki nei
Located on the fourth floor of the Royal Hawaiian Center. "Waikiki nei" performances run Wednesday through Saturday at 6 p.m.
Ticket Prices: Platinum seating: $99, adult; $79, child (ages 3 - 11)
Gold seating: $79, adult; $59, child
Silver seating: $69, adult; $49, child
Bronze seating: $49, adult; $29, child

More Info

Please Note

Waikiki Nei has now been closed until the end of the year. Click here here for more information.

Photo Tour

Click here to view a photo tour of other live productions throughout the Islands.

When I mentioned that I was going to see the new live show, "Waikiki nei," at its recently opened location in the Royal Hawaiian Center, I got two types of reactions from people. Those who had already seen the show, said, "I’ll be interested to hear what you think." The people who hadn’t seen it yet, said, "I’ve heard a lot about it, but I don’t really get what it is."

Now that I’ve seen the show, I completely understand both comments.

"Waikiki nei" suffers from not clearly defining what it is and thereby having a wide range of expectations on the one hand, and not delivering on those expectations on the other.

“Waikiki nei” sets are stylish and visually interesting. // (c) By John DeMello
"Waikiki nei" sets are stylish and visually interesting. 

The show’s press materials define "Waikiki nei" as "an awe-inspiring theatrical stage production that transports audience members through the legendary history of Waikiki." The materials report producers have "enlisted accomplished dancers, live musicians, acrobats and actors … to blend with cutting-edge lighting, sound, stage machinery and automation never before used in Hawaii. The production is unveiled in a series of tableaux, or vignettes, flowing seamlessly from one to the next in transformations that capture pure breathtaking imagination."

If it sounds like a complicated concept, it is. Part musical theater, part storytelling, part set design spectacle, part history and culture lesson, part political statement, "Waikiki nei" may not be an easy concept for agents to explain to their clients — and, in all honesty, it might not be worth the effort.

Part of the problem with the perception of the show is not the fault of its creators. Because of the involvement of Roger Parent, a former executive producer at Cirque du Soleil, some of those I spoke to thought the show featured Cirque-style acrobatic entertainment. There is some interesting staging, but telling clients that "Waikiki nei" is like a Cirque show would be misleading.

Parent, along with producer Roy Tokujo, are the creators of "Ulalena," a similar live show on Maui that has been a success. For "Waikiki nei," Parent and Tokujo teamed with Las Vegas entertainment executive Todd Dougall, as well as the Kamehameha Schools and, according to press materials, "specialist researchers from the Bishop Museum and numerous Waikiki consultants in island activities, history and social studies."

With so many experts involved, one can assume the historical accuracy of the production is solid, but at the same time, it feels like there might have been too many chefs in the kitchen and the show suffers as a result. While "Waikiki nei" ambitiously tries to be a lot of things, it ultimately fails at doing any of them well enough. The music is enjoyable, but it’s not a musical stage production that will leave audiences humming the tunes afterward. The Hawaiian history may be accurate, but the way it’s presented can be confusing and preachy. It wants to be funny at times, but doesn’t deliver on the laughs.

One area of the performance that succeeds better than the rest is its stage design. The sets are inventive, stylish and visually interesting. In fact, the stage design was a major consideration from the beginning of the show’s conceptualization — the theater roof was actually raised 30 feet to accommodate the production. At times, performers fly above the audience, and the stage features a rotating mechanical platform that was developed specifically for this show and moves performers around the stage both laterally and vertically.

But interesting staging alone can’t keep an audience entertained for long, and the show’s creators probably could have spent a little less time on the technical aspects of the production and a little more time on the script. Until these problems are worked out, agents will have to be hesitant in recommending "Waikiki nei" to most of their clients.

After Hours
Following the show, the "Waikiki nei" theater physically transforms into Level4 Nightclub & Ultra Lounge. Modeled after hot spots in Las Vegas and New York, Level4 features interactive tables, signature cocktails, model servers and VIP services, including private seating and bottle service.

After the performance of "Waikiki nei," the audience seating retracts and the space is converted into the nightclub, featuring a 4,500-square-foot dance floor, a 116-foot projection screen and more.

The theater itself feels brand-new. Five bars are located throughout the venue, and a 7,000-square-foot lanai featuring an outdoor bar and cabanas extends from the theater’s entrance.

Agents might want to tell clients to skip the show and head straight for the after party — making it more like Vegas than the show’s creators probably intended.