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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 1, 2010

It was a year of extraordinary highs, lows

By Wayne Harada

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tihati Productions put on a White House show.

Advertiser library photos

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Slack-key artist Makana scored key gigs.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Jake Shimabukuro played for the queen.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Honolulu Symphony Orchestra filed for bankruptcy.

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From my perch, there were highs and lows aplenty on the Island entertainment scene.

The big winner: Jake Shimabukuro, who literally was all over the map in 2009.

The big loser: the Honolulu Symphony, which shut down its season in hopes to reorganize after Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

Further, three TV stations became one, at least in the news picture, sending some anchors from one to the unemployment line; the White House hosted two Island entertainment icons, reflecting local-born President Obama's support of hometowners; a Waikīkī showroom welcomed an import show to mixed reviews, leading to its shutdown.

It was not a great season for the pocketbook, as tourism took a dip; there were months where visitor counts were high, but rooms were steeply discounted and visitors spent cautiously.

So here's a backward glance at the just-pau year, the 10 people or events that made news; this is not to be confused with our annual Waynie Award winners, which will be listed in the Show Biz column in this Sunday's Island Life section:

1. Jake Shimabukuro, 'ukulele virtuoso, was a one-man show with global appeal. He performed with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Jimmy Buffett; made his first trek to Paris; and was invited by Bette Midler to perform for Queen Elizabeth in England. "An unbelievable experience," he said. "I couldn't stop bowing (to the queen)." Once a local boy, always a local boy.

2. The Tihati Productions performing 'ohana and culinary kingpin Alan Wong provided entertainment and Island-style kau kau at the Obama administration's first-ever lū'au endeavor on the White House lawn. You showed 'em, guys.

3. The Honolulu Symphony Orchestra shut down prematurely, with a $2 million deficit, unable to maintain a full season, filing bankruptcy to attempt a comeback. But the return might be on a lesser scale, with fewer musicians (many have left town, in search of chairs in other orchestras). It's a sad note, since size matters; to downsize means the orchestra will become akin to a junior college operation, instead of a full-fledged college.

4. Two back-to-back show failures — Roy Tokujo's "Waikīkī nei" the year before and Dr. Dennis Law's ill-conceived "Heartbeat Hawaii" this past year — could not muster up business in a weak visitor environment; the first had a vision and script not totally successful, the latter was essentially a martial arts escapade with mixed ethnic ingredients and a Hawaiian element that was, at worst, offensive.

5. Makana, the singer and kī hoalu artist, distinguished himself twice during the year; first, as a showroom-potential, innovative performer, as the first of a series of Thursday-only cultural attractions at the Royal Hawaiian hotel's Monarch Room, and as a singular sensation as a singer-strummer at a White House one-nighter. Insider info: He was suggested for the D.C. slot by Tihati Productions, whose Polynesian finesse earlier in the year provided an avenue of ongoing communication.

6. "Mamma Mia!," the ABBA musical, played Blaisdell Concert Hall, coming at a time when the populace needed a feel-good show. Folks found the "Money, Money, Money" to lap up the inoffensive fun, and the box office saw green, too.

7. Publicist Elissa (we called her Lisa) Josephsohn lost her 2 1/2 -year battle of ovarian cancer, closing a three-decade career of theatrical, arts and culture, and restaurant public relations in the Islands. Her death Aug. 20, at age 60, also meant the end of decades of her personal-style boosting and promotion of such legit successes as "Les Misérables," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Miss Saigon" and "Stomp." The new normal now: the advocate's chair is still vacant, looking for someone to lure potential show presenters here.

8. "Lost" winds up filming its sixth and final season in the Islands — and the state loses its Hawaii Film Office muscle with the dismissal of Donne Dawson, who was a victim of a financial and political fray.

9. "Winter Wonderland," a holiday attraction at Diamond Head Theatre, is a theatrical bonbon ofendless wonderment, a gift for the community shared by the actors, musicians and techies, shaped and mounted by the invaluable John Rampage. It was the Christmas spectacle this town needed, and assuredly, a hana hou is on tap — in perhaps a couple of seasons.

10. Hawaii News Now, a product of the combined resources of KGMB9, KHNL and K5 TV stations, debuted in October — a combo that raised brows and sent all but four from the KHNL-K5 newsrooms out to pasture. "Connected" became the mantra of the airwaves, though a disconnect is part of the murky union. Through all the hoopla, KHON2's Joe Moore, counted as headed for oblivion, improved his viewership numbers, perhaps with a message: Don't mess with the news.

Reach Wayne Harada at 266-0926. Read his Show Biz column Sundays in Island Life and online at http://showandtellhawaii.honadvblogs.com.