Astounding, Authentic, Breathtaking and Entertaining are only a few of the words one can attribute to the fantastic show, Ulalena, staged before mesmerized audiences in the new state-of-the-art, multi-million dollar Maui Myth and Magic Theatre in Lahaina.
The power of this production is that it is both universal and intimate with the audience feeling involved throughout the performance. It is born from a mythology populated by beings larger than life representing a natural landscape alive with volcanoes, vast oceans, and primeval rainforests.
The ocean provides the way for the first immigrants from Tahiti. Navigating by the stars, they pursue their vision of Pele, the Volcano Goddess, and her brother Kamohoali`i, the Shark God. The demigod Maui pulls the Islands from the depths of the ocean. This was a stunning and breath-taking scene which depicted the Polynesians' ocean voyage; cast members move through the audience, holding replicas of colorful sea creatures and angelfish at the end of long sticks, creating the impression that the audience were underwater, swimming with the fish.
Scene three . . .
The mythical forest where a young Ali`i (Hawaiian royalty) has a vision od Mo`o (Guardian spirit in the form of a lizard) who inhabits a waterfall. The trees in the rainforest suddenly come to life, manifesting their mana, or life force; young men and women run playfully among them. The Gods reflect upon their passions and desires while the half hog, Kamapua`a pursues his passionate love for Pele.
Scene four . . .
The scene is in the village where men pounding poi from fresh taro roots and women beating kapa exemplify simple village life in Hawaii. The sister of the young ali`i has a vision of the Kapa Goddess while she works. Then the Makahiki, a long white Tapa banner honoring the God of agriculture, Lono, announces the annual celebration of the Makahiki Harvest Festival, a time of thanksgiving, sports, and taboo on war.
One of the most enthralling scenes depicts the forces of nature"Pele", the volcano goddessexplodes in response to turbulent times, unleashing her fury by emitting yards of lava-red cloth from her robes. The performers pull the cloth over the audience, all the way back to the 700-seat theatre, built especially for Ulalena, as spectators raise their hands to support it as it passes overhead.
In another exciting scene, a mo`o (water spirit) represented by a dancer/acrobat dressed in silvery tights, moves sinuously through a waterfall of soft fabric while a chief watches from below, spellbound, and so too, is the audience.
Another scene features a glowing, shimmering moon goddess, Hina, dancing in the rings of the Moon, while a dancer below accompanies her in hula.
A turntable stage with pits and risers add depth to the show, the product of a unique partnership between local and international talents. The producer is Hawaii businessman Roy Tokujo, head of Cove Entertainment and a visitor industry veteran. Tokujo wanted to create a show that would appeal to visitors as well as locals, and present the rich cultural history of the Islands. He enlisted the expertise of ARRA of Montreal, Canada, a world-renowned entertainment consulting firm whose credits include projects in Las Vegas, Germany, France, and Canada.
"To date, there has been no other on-going stage production in Hawaii presented with such technical and artistic creativity, detail and authenticity," Tokujo said. "Our brilliant creative team has developed a production that has become Hawaii's premier entertainment attraction, local insight provided by master slack key guitar artist Keola Beamer and noted historian, singer, and composer Nona Beamer were the crowing touches," he added.
The result is Ulalena, an impressive conglomeration of talent that has been poured into a show that is not only rare, but provides art at its highest form.
The stage in itself is one of a kind. Built in Montreal and moved piece by piece to Maui, the stage possesses many characteristics which are unique to Ulalena and to the Maui Theatre. It has four built-in elevators which can retract when not in use, one turntable; the brilliant color is obtained by putting on numerous layers of paint and varnish usually used for cars. This paint gives the stage its richness and color depth, achieving the desired results.
ARRA-Maui created a unique lighting system using 24 moving lights over the stage, 12 spotlights on moving tracks on ceiling over the stage, and four moving pantographs on the sides of the stage. The technicians also used two high powered projectors manufactured by Ludwig Pani of Austria, 2.5 kilowatt HMI lamps, and two ETC single stroller units using 183 millimeter wide or perforated film.
Movable screens supporting image projections are also used as backdrops throughout the show. The screens, along with all movable elements, have integrated electric motors, which can be controlled by computer.
In December 2002, Ulalena was selected to perform as part of National Geographic Society's Music & Arts Performance series. The sold-out performances were held at the Gilbert H. Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
The 75-minute show on Maui is performed nightly, Tuesday through Saturday, and standing ovations has become the norm.
Ulalena composers are Michel Cusson and Luc Boivin. Original Hawaiian music is by Keola Beamer and Nona Beamer, chants by O'Brian Eselu, Charles Ka`upu, and Nalani Kanaka`ole.
Among Ulalena's Hawaiian content advisors are O'Brien Esulu, Nalani Kanaka`ole, Hokulani Holt Padilla, and Dr. Kalena Silva. Among the production team members are Keola Beamer, Nona Beamer, and Irmgard Aluli. Also adding to the local imput of the show is the predominance of Hawaii performers and musicians in the cast, including many in the principal roles.
The array of instruments played include a nose flute, an ipu (gourd), and five different conches. There is absolutely no doubt, seeing Ulalena is a must for any visitor to Maui.