Kamehameha Schools rock opera tells story of pivotal moment in Hawaii history

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HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Theater kumu Eric Stack
HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Choir Director Herb Mahelona
The band rehearses Tuesday in the gym at Kamehameha Schools Hawaii campus in Keaau in preparation for this year’s ho‘ike.
HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Kyra Gomes, 16, as Queen Liliuokalani rehearse for this year’s hoike performance Tuesday in the gym at Kamehameha Schools Hawaii campus in Keaau.
Students rehearse a hula to the song, “Ka Have Kalaunu,” on Tuesday in the gym at Kamehameha Schools Hawaii campus in Keaau.

KEAAU — Community members have an opportunity next week to see Kamehameha Schools Hawaii campus’ first-ever Hawaiian “rock opera” as part of its spring ho‘ike.

The all-school “Ku I Ka Mana” production will share the “drama and political intrigue” of the 1874 election between King David Kalakaua and Queen Emma Rooke, according to a campus news release. The production will be presented in English and Hawaiian.

The election took place after King William Charles Lunalilo died and left the Kingdom of Hawaii without an appointed successor to the throne. The election had “lasting repercussions on the Kingdom of Hawaii,” according to the release, and set the stage for events that helped shape the history of the state.

The election is said to bear resemblance to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which similarly divided the country.

“For this particular ho‘ike, unlike past years, we are trying to tackle themes that were relevant during this time period but are even more relevant now,” said senior Damien Stack, 18. “We’re all trying to tell a story here. At first glimpse, the premise of an opera for an election might seem (strange), but one of the reasons we did this is because of the recent presidential election which is very similar.”

“I didn’t know much about this election (prior), so I definitely feel more educated about it now,” added Kyra Gomes, 16, who portrays Lili‘uokalani and said she read the queen’s book, “Hawaii’s Story,” to prepare for the role. “And just the personality traits of the different kings and queens, I definitely feel more connected now to my culture.”

The campus picked a rock music genre because it “fit the subject matter,” said choir director Herb Mahelona. He said it’s the first time “anyone has ever done a Hawaiian rock opera.” Keeping with the music genre, the production is designed around a steampunk theme.

“It’s about a really contentious time,” Mahelona said. “Hawaii was really divided at the time between two candidates, so we needed some kind of music that would convey the chaos of the time and the rock music just fit perfectly.”

Each year, the campus’ ho‘ike presents a different aspect of Hawaiian history or culture to the public. Each of the roughly 500 high school students are involved in some way as either actors, dancers, musicians or crew. Students started rehearsing in January. Also involved this year are the KSH Elementary School Keiki Choir and the Mamalahoe Chapter of the Kamehameha Alumni Chorus.

Theater kumu Eric Stack said the idea is to “unify the school under the Hawaiian culture and celebrate that Hawaiian culture as a school.”

Funds raised will help students with travel costs for participating in worldwide events, including performances at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.


If you go

• “Ku I Ka Mana” performances are open to the public at 6 p.m. March 15-16 in Koai‘a Gymnasium on the Kamehameha Schools Hawaii campus in Keaau. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased online at ksbe.edu/kshhoike, at the door before each performance or at the high school office or Student Activities Center from 3-4 p.m. during school days.