Virus fears suppress entertainment on the Big Island




Although there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 coronavirus on the Big Island, the worldwide pandemic has hit close to home, especially in the past week, putting a damper on entertainment and live performances.

In the wake of the Merrie Monarch Festival’s cancellation and the University of Hawaii prohibiting campus events with more than 100 in attendance, theaters and performing arts venues are making adjustments in the way they do business.


The most drastic measures, it appears, are being taken by the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea.

Internationally renowned classical guitarist David Russell postponed upcoming shows in Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Hawaii — including a March 28 date at the Kahilu. The announcement by Russell’s presenter, U.S. Classic Guitar, said all his dates will be rescheduled.

Deb Goodwin, the Kahilu’s executive director, said two events — a reception for a juried art exhibition and an open-mic performance — also were cancelled this weekend. She added that the theater’s board is meeting on Monday.

“What we’re doing right now is working to postpone scheduled events in the next 30 days and reschedule them in the next season,” Goodwin said.

A scheduled March 21 show by singer Joan Osborne has already been removed from the Kahilu’s online calendar, as has a March 29 date for Duo Diorama, featuring Chinese violinist Ming-Huan Xu and Canadian pianist Winston Choi.

Two shows within that 30-day time frame remained on the calendar as of Friday: a March 27 concert by acoustic guitarist and Grammy-winning producer Charles Brotman, a Waimea resident; and an April 4 show by indigenous Canadian-American singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Goodwin said the Kahilu will honor “refunding, rescheduling (and) exchanging or asking our patrons to donate” the ticket price.

“We’re very grateful for everyone’s patience and perceiving this as a way to support each other in our daily activities, and we’re doing everything we can to keep the arts alive,” she said.

Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, the curtain is set to rise at Hilo’s Palace Theater on “Beauty and the Beast,” the inaugural spring youth musical directed by Larry Reitner.

The show is set to run the next three weekends, with 7 p.m. performances on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sundays.

“We’re going to be proceeding with our scheduled programming until directed not to,” said Phillips Payson, the Palace’s executive director. “We’ll be operating under restricted capacity to enable social distancing in the auditorium. And we are enforcing hygenic protocols to ensure that the facility is disinfected, and we’re making hand-sanitizing stations against the wall. And we’re honoring any refunds to any people who do not feel comfortable coming to the show.”

Payson said those disinclined to use previously purchased tickets have the option of transferring it “into a tax-deductible donation to help support the theater during this time of economic turbulence.”

The venerable 1920s theater also has its monthly jazz night in the lobby March 26 with Soul on a Roll and a drag burlesque show with Kendra H. Kinx on April 11, in addition to the Palace’s regularly scheduled art movies and foreign films.

“We are continuously monitoring developments regarding the spread and impact of the coronavirus,” Payson said.

“The health and safety of all who enjoy this historic theater is our top priority.”

Payson said updates will be posted on the Palace’s website at

The University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center is operating under an edict issued Thursday by UH President David Lassner limiting public gatherings to 100 individuals or fewer.

“We are moving forward, as planned, with our production of ‘The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu,” the weekend of April 3, 4 and 5, with a limited audience,” Lee Barnette-Dombroski, the performing arts center’s director, said. “And past that, we aren’t making plans for anything at this point, because indications from the university were that things will be re-evaluated on April 13, to see if they resume face-to-face classes as President Lassner said in his statements.”

Justina Mattos, an assistant professor of performing arts, is directing the stage drama written by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, which explores the relationship between the queen and the missionary women who seek to convert her to Christianity during the tumultuous period immediately following the fall of the kapu system.

“We’ll sell no more than 100 tickets, and we’ll ask unrelated audience members to sit as far apart as they possibly can to keep that social distance, six feet apart. That should be fairly easily done in a 600-seat hall with only 100 people in it,” Dombroski said.

No decisions have yet been made about three shows in early May, all in-house productions, including: “Great Leaps” dance concert; UH-Hilo Jazz Orchestra’s “Revolution” Beatles tribute show; and the choral production, “We Sing the Spring: That ’80s Concert!”


In addition, Regal Cinemas, the parent company of the Regal Prince Kuhio 9 Theaters in Hilo, and the Regal Keauhou and Regal Makalapua theaters in Kona, said it is also instituting social distancing measures in its theaters, capping ticket sales at 50% of any given theater’s capacity.

Email John Burnett at

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