Hollywood, Hawaii, 96743

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My favorite month of the year on Hawaii Island has nothing to do with holidays or seasons.  It is Hawaii Performing Arts Festival month, when the unbelievable number of performances HPAF delivers in a short period of time light up our lives like a shower of falling stars.  For classical music buffs, it’s a windfall, a trifecta, a hole in one.

But it is not just for those who crave classical. This point was made in HPAF’s season opener, Hollywood Hits. This is the first time I can remember that HPAF devoted an entire show just to the kind of popular music that we hear day to day, year to year, decade to decade – songs from many eras of movie making that have become as familiar and dear as an old pair of jeans.

Justin John Moniz

HPAF’s mission is to “promote the appreciation and advancement of classical music and musical theater.”  Under the leadership of Justin John Moniz in his second year as Executive Director, it seems we will see more attention paid to the latter than in earlier years. It is where he himself excels as was evident in this performance, and hopefully it will broaden the audience as more and more people find out about the diversity of quality musical events that HPAF offers.

Paulina Villarea

All three of the Hollywood Hits singers are professionals who have had leading roles in a variety of operas and musicals over the last few years. Moniz himself, with his assured and commanding tenor and superb acting skills, kept us breathless as he held onto a final high note; we only let out our breaths when he did. There are usually more tenors than basses, so we thrilled to James Harrington’s full and deep tones as if rising from the bottom of a well.  No matter how often we’ve heard “Some Enchanted Evening,” hearing it sung by Harrington enchanted us all over again.  Mexican bombshell Paulina Villareal has a mezzo-soprano voice that you would expect to hear on the top-10 charts; her rendition of “How Far I’ll Go” from the movie Moana was fiery and fierce, and I felt she was singing for herself and for all women.

James Harrington

It takes guts to sing “Over the Rainbow” here in Hawaii, after Iz Kamakawiwoʻole’ gave it a brand new sound and created a national audience for Hawaiian music when it was used in the movie Meet Joe Black.  However, this was my favorite song of the evening in a trio arrangement – brand new again, since I have only heard it done as a solo – the voices alternated in carrying the melodic line and the words phrase by phrase, with the other two voices providing a luscious harmonic counterpoint.

Speaking of arrangement, Phil Kadet, who played a jazzy piano accompaniment to all the songs, was the arranger for Rainbow and all the other numbers as well.  Another piece of HPAF’s mission is to teach and encourage young local musicians while the HPAF faculty are on island.  Phil contributed to that mission by acting as Musical Director for the Kahilu Youth Troupe’s recent production of West Side Story, performed just a few days ago. Having a successful young musician from New York City come and share his secrets must have been an awesome experience for our budding island singers.

The rest of the orchestra members were also exceptional musicians; a special treat that made the songs sound more “Hollywood” was a trumpet played by Jason Gamer.

The evening was all too short – a teaser for the rest of the HPAF season?! We’re ready!  Hana hou!


Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.

Photos: Steve Roby


Read our article that includes a list of HPAF’s 2019 season.

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