'Ulalena: The Story of Hawaii's People touches hearts and minds
By Kathy Chin Leong

These swirling costumes are so colorful you feel as though you are inside a kaleidoscope. In the background, drums pulsating with a deep and reverberating rhythm make you want to stand and dance. The muscular performers are tan, toned, and taut to the point you're needing to hit the gym right after the show.

This is 'Ulalena, a utterly moving performance about Hawaii's people during ancient times. Don't expect the traditional hula show you typically find at hotels and shopping centers. This is a story with each scene flowing into the next, executed in a classy, sophisticated a and beautiful way that, at first glance, that would remind you of Cirque du Soleil. 'Ulalena is named after a wind and rain unique to Maui which rises at twilight. The show producers say that the word echoes hope and cleaninsing, and so the ancient Hawaiian name, they stress, is apt for the title.

When you've got a theater built specifically around a show, then you know something wonderful is in the works. If you are in Maui looking for something of substance, then 'Ulalena provides a lot of culture and history laced with humor and warmth. I loved the fact that this show provides clean entertainment for the entire family. Kids under 3 are free and can share a lap with mom and dad. Tickets for children 3-12 start at $16 and adults start at $35. Premium seats closer to the front cost $36 for kids and $60 for adults. The $9.5 million production is held Monday through Friday in downtown Lahaina, the epicenter of shopping and tourism on the island.

The acrobatic scenes where you witness actors using a giant hoop, scads of flowing fabric and phenomental gymnastic strength is mesmerizing, but it is not the focus of the show.

During the 90-minute performance, the 20-person cast sings, dances, and acts out nine scenes within a backdrop of live Hawaiian music. The music never stops and may be too loud for some, so folks with hearing issues can bring some earplugs to soften the drumming.

The stage is electric, resonating wtih drums and Hawaiian chanting. Amid high-tech digital lighting systems that issue forth dazzling lighting effects, a 22-foot-wide turntable for the stage, and 20 surround sound speakers to ensconce up to 680 audience members with captivating tempos, the entire effect of the performance is ethereal.

Little narration is used, so it is best to read about the different scenes in the pamphet before the show starts or you may get confused. The dazzling dances and movements are symbolic with some characters representing different Hawaiian gods and goddesses. A particular moving scene comes when the show depicts the European explorers who arrive and brings the diseases which kill off many of the indigenous people.

Sets are fabulous and staging is epic. While not a full blown New York Broadway spectacle, nor a mind blowing Cirque performance, 'Ulalena is touching and enchanting, a lovely way to end another perfect day in Maui.

Maui Theater
878 Front Street
Lahaina, Maui
Prices starting at $16 for children 3-12; $26 for adults. Under 3 free, but must sit in lap of adult.

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