Return to Waikiki

It’s called “Return to Waikiki,” and like many things in Hawaii, its name has more than one meaning. The lu’au and cocktail show debuts Saturday with a special “VIP Opening Night,” and it’s a daring attempt to bring the magic back to the tourist Mecca:

Return to Waikiki celebrates the incredible story of how Hawaiian music came to be, from its pre-Western contact roots of Hula Kahiko to the Hawaiian music renaissance of the 1970s and beyond. A vaudevillian-style presentation combines masterful musicianship, comedy, theatrics, dance and story telling to entertain, inspire and enlighten the audience to this rarely told tale.

Just steps from most hotels in Waikīkī, this lū’au set under the canopies of banyan and palms trees in the heart of Waikīkī will take you back to the spirit of the grand lū’aus and entertainment of the 1940s and 1950s. Master slack key guitarist Makana showcases traditional and contemporary Hawaiian entertainment in a sophisticated production that pays tribute to Waikīkī’s past and present.

Although Waikiki is the beating heart of Hawaii’s visitor industry, there are surprisingly few options for evening entertainment. Sure, you could go shopping, people watching, or club hopping, but many tourists are surprised to find that the “dinner and a show” experiences of decades past are now hard to find.

The famous Kodak Hula Show is long gone. So is the late Don Ho, and his iconic show at the old Hilton Dome. And several more recent attempts have come and gone: Cirque Hawaii faded away, and both Waikiki Nei (and its shortlived successor Heartbeat Hawaii) closed within six months of opening. I’m not even sure if the Society of Seven show at the Outrigger is still around. And if you’re looking for a lu’au? You’ll most likely be shipped over 25 miles away to Paradise Cove at Ko’olina, Germaine’s Luau at Barber’s Point, or the Polynesian Cultural Center in La’ie.

So “Return to Waikiki” will hopefully herald the return of quality entertainment. The outdoor show is set in the International Marketplace, one of the most famous spots in Waikiki, and it will run every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with a dinner buffet show at 6 p.m. and a cocktail show after the lu’au at 8:30 p.m. Dinner and show tickets start at $95, and tickets for children ages 4-11 are $55. Children 3 and under are free.

I was fortunate to be invited to attend the “friends and family” dress rehearsal tonight. I’ve posted a photo gallery, and will put together a little video tomorrow. Mahalo to the incredible Sakara Blackwell for the opportunity to get an early look at the show:

It’s not too late to attend the “VIP Opening Night” on Saturday. You can purchase tickets by calling (808) 542-6567, or online at A portion of the proceeds will benefit Kanu Hawaii and the Surfrider Foundation.

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