It's been a little over a year since Oahu's Polynesian Cultural Center introduced its current evening show, "Ha: Breath of Life," and both visitors and residents can't seem to get enough.
According to the center, the performance has been seen by more than half a million spectators since opening last August and has welcomed an average of 41,000 viewers each month, a figure that significantly eclipses ticket sales for the destination's previous, long-running "Horizons" evening show.
Perhaps even more impressive is the show's popularity among Hawaii residents, who previously might have only ventured out to the center when entertaining visiting family and friends.
"Locals are definitely coming on their own now without guests," said Delsa Moe, the center's director of cultural presentations. "We have regulars who come on a weekly basis, and because the locals are coming as frequently as they do and they like the show, they've really become our best word-of-mouth advertisers."
Moe, a producer for the "Ha" program and an employee of the center since the late '70s, said the show has been receiving "phenomenal" feedback from viewers and regularly elicits some illustrious comparisons.
"One of the most frequent comments we get is ... 'I've seen Broadway shows, and this is better than any Broadway show I've seen,'" Moe said. "To be compared with Broadway, that is really something."
The result of a three-year creative development process, "Ha" cost $3 million to produce and distances itself from the center's previous evening shows through a unifying narrative, digital animation and a carefully thought-out set of cultural values creators hope audience members will take to heart.
"Once we identified what the core values were in each of our cultures, the next question we asked was, 'What in your culture does the world need to know about you?'" Moe said. "Then we went through and identified a few of those values [and] finally we asked, 'What is it you would like the audience to take away from your particular section of the show?' We had never created in that fashion before."
Journey of a lifetime
"Ha" follows a central character, Mana, on his journey to manhood across the Pacific and features cultural routines from six Polynesian nations: Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Tahiti.
Each of those performances shares a culturally inherent tenet with audience members. In the Hawaiian number, for example, performers showcase the Hawaiians' adoration of their children through a lavish birthday celebration. In the Samoan routine, the audience encounters a brother who is extraordinarily protective of his sister.
"There's actually a Samoan proverb that can be translated as 'A sister is the pupil of her brother's eye,' meaning that the pupil is very tender and even a little fleck of dust in there can irritate it," said Moe, who is of Samoan descent. "So a good brother protects his sister as carefully as he would protect or treat his eyes. Even still today, brothers are very overprotective of their sisters in Samoa."
With a cast of 115-plus, the show, which runs six times a week, actually includes scenes with upwards of 80 performers on stage at one time. Moe said about 70% of the dancers are students enrolled at Brigham Young University-Hawaii (the center is actually a nonprofit organization whose profits go solely to education) while the rest are typically Brigham Young graduates or local high school students.
"Some of them come knowing how to dance, and some have never danced in their lives, so we teach them and we train them," Moe said. "People regularly ask us about how often we rehearse and the answer is every single day because every semester brings a turnover. And, so that we're efficient with our manpower for the show, if we hire a dancer, we expect them to dance in two cultures other than their own as well."
All the hard work certainly seems to have paid off. Ask John Delos Reyes, longtime concierge team supervisor at the Hilton Hawaii Village in Waikiki, about the center's evening performance, and he'll recommend it every time.
"This show just touches your heart," he said. "When I went, I was thoroughly, thoroughly impressed. I have 64 Hilton Grand Vacations concierges, and I make sure every single one of them speaks highly of the 'Ha' evening show at PCC."
Admission to the center, along with dinner and seats for the "Ha" performance, is $60 for adults and $45 for children ages 5 to 15. Visit www.polynesia.com.