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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

There's noel place like home for the holidays

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Jim Nabors hangs out with sidekick Daisy at his Diamond Head home. He'll be on stage for a Christmas concert tonight, but is passing on the high-kicking wooden-soldiers routine of past years. But the "O Holy Night" finale will be there.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

'A Merry Christmas with Friends and Nabors'

A holiday spectacle starring Jim Nabors

7:30 p.m. today and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Hawai'i Theatre

$45, $55, $75 (discounts for students, military and those 62 and older)


Also featuring: Jimmy Borges, Karen Keawehawai'i, Emma Veary, Philip Huber and the Huber marionettes, the Company Singers, Diamond Head Theatre Shooting Stars, Halau Hula 'O Kawaili'ula, Hula Hui 'O Kupunahala 'O Nu'uanu, and the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra

He wanted to revive that show-stopping "March of the Wooden Soldiers" number that has been a popular element of his "A Merry Christmas With Friends and Nabors" revue, but Jim Nabors let his body make the final decision on performances tonight through Sunday. "I did it for two years," Nabors said the other day, reflecting on his high-stepping moment in his holiday gift to the community. "I can't kick that high; the last time, I hurt my lower back and was out for several days."

At 71, Nabors is thankful he's alive and able to give back to the community he adores. His Christmas package is in its seventh edition this year, and it's got the usual sparkle, glamour and memories. He was relaxing poolside at his beachfront Diamond Head home, occasionally playing with one of his four dogs, waxing nostalgic about his yearly Christmas serenade.

But the pivotal wooden soldier moment — where Nabors and the Diamond Head Theatre Shooting Stars make like the Radio City Hall Rockettes, marching in pinwheel formations and doing applause-generating kicks — has been scrapped.

"I have a pacemaker and a new liver, and I've lots to be thankful about, especially living in Hawai'i — my home for more than 30 years," said the former TV star ("The Andy Griffith Show," "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." and "The Jim Nabors Hour," all on CBS), recording artist (46 albums), and Las Vegas show circuit veteran (35 years). He's also appeared in three films and two stage productions.

"I am so thrilled to do the show. But the kicks had to go.

"The gang convenes; they're like family to me, and it's like having a family reunion, you know, when the 'ohana gets together. We've become very close friends over the years; and the one thing I've learned: In Hawai'i, it's not like Beverly Hills or New York, it's totally different. Everybody cares, like one big happy family."

The seasons, however, seem to creep up on him faster than he can say "Golleee!" As he put it: "The shows run together so fast; and the older I get, the harder it is for me to learn new material. It used to be where I'd pride myself on learning 25 pages a night for a show; now, I have trouble memorizing new stuff."

Not to worry. The show, assembling a cast of youngsters, chorales, hula dancers and show-biz veterans, is all about 'ohana, said Nabors. His must-haves include resident singers Emma Veary, Karen Keawehawai'i and Jimmy Borges; he's also hosting a master of puppetry in Philip Huber and Huber's marionettes. And local ensembles and choruses — plus the Honolulu Symphony. All directed by his longtime pal, Tom Hansen.

"The audiences like the old, familiar stuff, so you can't give 'em all new," he said. "We always have the same ending, and it works: Each one of us sings a carol, we end with 'O Holy Night.' Someplace in there, you have to do 'Silent Night.' It's hard to change a tradition."

Clearly, he wouldn't do this show anywhere else, and yes, he's been asked to.

"Only reason I do it ... it's because of Hawai'i and its people," said Nabors. "This is my home."

Nabors stays out of the business end of the production, leaving such worries to the show's producer, Burton White of the Hawai'i Theatre.

He said he was upset, however, when prices were raised for this year's effort. "I don't think that had an effect on sales, but I guess I understand why ticket prices go up."

As a performer, he is rightfully concerned about the struggles faced by all arts groups in the community. "It's puzzling to me why the arts are not better endowed," he said. "There are a lot of major, major (potential) families and corporations who should be providing support."

For his work, Nabors is not getting paid — it's his way of giving back something to the community. It's his Thanksgiving remembrance — at Christmas.

"I go to lunch at the Kahala Mandarin, and I get to look at this (he points to the blue Pacific) all year," Nabors said of his station in the Islands. "So when people (from the Mainland) come to me and ask to do this show elsewhere, or even another series, I have to tell them, 'Are you serious?' Why would I trade all that I have and subject myself to bad food and listen to folks go over story lines?

"Besides, TV is very different now. I find there is a lack of creativity in the industry. And it's frightening to me, what with all these 'reality' shows. I'm sorry."

He has fond and lasting memories about those fertile times with Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and Ron Howard on "The Andy Griffith Show." "I'm especially proud of Ron Howard," he said. "I don't get to meet with him often, but did, at the recent CBS reunion show in New York, and he's all grown up and one of the nicest persons around. One of the only ones in the biz who has less hair than I do." He laughed.

"He was telling me, pretty much everything he learned, he learned from the Griffith show; he learned professionalism from Andy. And the way it was, we all came to the set, learned our lines, rehearsed and shot the show; then we had fun over lunch. Someone would play a guitar and we'd all sing; I've never encountered that kind of camaraderie on any other show since."

Nabors said performing is his life — so there's genuine joy in giving and sharing the holiday spirit. "I'll never get away from performing ... till the day I die," he said. "You know, I haven't had a press agent for 30 years, at least, so I'm no longer in the loop. Still, I sell out wherever I go, whether it's Atlantic City, Chicago or Branson. It dumbfounds me, it really does. So I'm happy to be able to perform in front of a Hawai'i audience.

"One of the things that always save me from depression is my great sense of humor — about just about anything — and I'm not political," said Nabors. "Every day is a blessing for me. That's an overused expression, but it's truly a blessing."

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.