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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 26, 2002

Hula show takes final bow today

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

After a 65-year run, a Waikiki tradition ends this morning when the Pleasant Hawaiian Hula Show, formerly the Kodak Hula Show, shuts down for good, a victim of both dwindling visitor counts and a changing economic climate.

The Pleasant Hawaiian Hula Show, formerly the Kodak Hula Show, offered many picture-postcard moments.

Advertiser library photo • Aug. 30, 2001

The final performance is at 10 a.m. at the Kapi'olani Park site adjoining the Waikiki Shell.

An estimated 20 million people have seen the show since 1937, when creator-host Fritz Herman had the notion of presenting Hawai'i's hula dancers for photo-ops.

"It will be somewhat emotional," said Kimo Kahoano, the show's host since 1990 and one of only three in the show's colorful history.

"It's been a wonderful heritage to share and a unique style of hula show, with people coming from all the world," said Kahoano. "We've had visitors who say they came to see the hula on their silver anniversary, and returned on the gold. It's been kind of a marker for a lot of people's lives."

The free show was almost shut down three years ago, when Eastman Kodak, which financed it for more than six decades, decided to pull out, partly because of changing competition in the world of photography. The show continued when the Hogan Family Foundation, the philanthropic wing of Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, a tour business owned and operated by the Hogans, agreed to step in and pick up the annual $500,000 required to keep the thrice-weekly show going.

Gary Hogan, president of Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, had mixed feelings about the finale.

Dancers signaled the end of their performance 33 years ago. Today, the hula show will be pau for good after losing its latest sponsor.

Advertiser library photo • March 29, 1969

"We extended the run a month, and I personally tried to find another sponsor, checking with different companies and hotels, but it's just a really tough time, especially with tourism numbers not being great," he said. "With the possibility of war, there's a lot of uncertainty out there."

Hogan and his wife, Nadine, have, in the past three years, incorporated local businesses into the show, enabling fashion designers, entertainers and others to be showcased. "Most important was the cast of dancers and musicians — they're just wonderful people," said Hogan.

The Hogans had to evaluate their community investments, deciding to expand on educational needs in the community. "Ed and Gary Hogan (father and son) have been generous, particularly since visitor counts dropped after 9/11," Kahoano said. "They kept us going, and they, too, have great memories of the Kodak Hula Show. Ed remembers seeing Hilo Hattie there."

Herman, who was a Kodak executive, had the idea of staging a daytime hula show, in sunlight, to enable visitors to snap pictures to take home. Back then, hula mostly was a nighttime staple at lu'au performances.

May Akeo Brown has the longevity record in the outgoing cast; she joined the roster in 1938, when she was a little girl. Over the years, troupers have included Muriel Lupenui, mother of the late kumu hula Darrell Lupenui; Lila Reiplinger, mother of the late comedian Rap Reiplinger; Moana Chang, still part of the performing ensemble; Louise Akeo Silva, a prominent member of the Royal Hawaiian Girls Glee Club; and Fred Kamaka Sr., an 'ukulele wizard.

"A guy named Kawika became really famous, when the show was located at the Queen's Surf, when he climbed up a coconut tree beside the ocean," said Kahoano.

The classic "Kodak moment" happened when visitors were invited to aim their cameras at the cast as the performers held the huge letters H-A-W-A-I-I in red and yellow.

The P-A-U sign, which closed each performance, today signals the end of an era.

Reach Wayne Harada at 525-8067 or wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: Auntie May Brown was in the cast of the Pleasant Hawaiian Hula Show. Her name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.