Ukulele virtuoso Taimane Gardner debuted her theatrical musical Elemental last Saturday at the Kahilu Theatre. The sold-out performance was filled with surreal scenes reminiscent of a Cirque du Soleil production, and the appreciative crowd responded with cheers throughout and a standing ovation.
Saturday’s presentation of Elemental marked its Big Island premiere as well as a first-time appearance for the musician at the Kahilu Theatre. The concept for Elemental began in 2015 when Gardner started work on an album to bring to life her vision of the four elements and a fifth, ether, often referred to in ancient and medieval science as the material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere. Taimane views it as “The space between the notes.”
Released in 2018, Elemental has achieved great success, and the track “Water” has been nominated for a 2019 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award in the Instrumental Composition of the Year category. Last year she had a pre-release album concert at Hilo’s Palace Theatre.
Taimane’s Kahilu debut seemed to have awakened several of nature’s elements just before the show. Starting with a 5.3 earthquake, along with heavy wind and rain, concertgoers were well stimulated as they arrived. The evening’s entertainment was broken up into two acts – first, a concert-style performance featuring Taimane and her band: Rachel Look (classical guitar, vocals), Jonathan Heraux (percussion), and Jake Staron (cello), second, the theatrical version of Elemental, with a variety of performers and staging
For the concert segment, Taimane mesmerized the crowd with tunes from her 2015 album, We Are Made of Stars, along with some real show-stoppers like her full-throttle medley of surf rock songs, dedicated to the “King of Surf Guitar,” the late Dick Dale. Taimane fluttered around often approaching the edge of the stage to give the audience a glimpse of her fiery fingers frantically strumming the ukulele. She occasionally takes the stance of a heavy metal guitarist, but with the intense focus of a classical or Flamenco player.
Just before intermission, Taimane premiered her new music video “Earth,” filmed in Puna before the devastating lava flows of 2018. Spectacular views of the area were a backdrop while Taimane performed the song. The video will be officially released later this month.
While the first half of the show was extremely entertaining, I felt the multi-layered production of Elemental could have stood comfortably on its own as the sole focus of the show. Each of the seven songs performed was a major production – costume changes, dancers, aerial acrobatics, keiki hula dancers, Cerbus (a monstrous multi-headed “dog” with neon-painted dog tags), and wonderful spoken word intros by Kealoha. Backstage, the theatre’s tech crew were assisted by Taimane’s production staff, working in unison like an air traffic control center, making sure lights, audio, special effects, and dancers all hit their cues, and the show went on as conceived. Not any easy task, and something that wasn’t accomplished with just a few days rehearsal. All seemed to happen perfectly, even if it was only for a one-night performance.
Kealoha, Hawai`i’s First Official Poet Laureate, introduced each song with spoken word narration. Taimane and band offered the musical soundtrack behind The Robena Collective dancers for several numbers. Local Tango teacher Angel Prince danced flawlessly with her partner Brian Kerley for the appropriate “Fire.”
One of the highlights of the second act was contemporary dancer Katy Raczkowski performing a free-form piece to the song “Earth.” She’s danced with Salzburg Ballet Company in Austria, and a soloist for San Diego Ballet Company. Currently Raczkowski teaches for Kona Dance and Performing Arts. About halfway through, she was joined by keiki from Halau Hula Helele’I Pua O Waipi’o.
Noelanai Anderson, an instructor at the Prince Dance Institute and reviewer for Big Island Music Magazine, was a guest vocalist on Ether, one of the closings songs for the show. As a standing ovation began, several long-stemmed roses were tossed on stage in appreciation of the amazing production.
Afterwards, Taimane and several cast members greeted fans in the lobby, signed CDs, and took numerous photos with everyone. Gardner is one of the best ukulele players in the world, and we hope she returns to the Big Island soon for another breathtaking concert.
Stairway to Heaven/Für Elise | Carmen/Phantom of the Opera | Moon | Mars | Wicked Game | Ladybird | Surf Medley (featuring Miserlou and Wipe Out) | Neptune |
Atlantis | Water | Fire | Air | Earth | Hades (Pluto) | Ether | Oh Nah |
For the latest tour and music info, visit Taimane’s official site: https://taimane.com
You can read my interview with Taimane here: https://bigislandmusic.net/talking-story-with-ukulele-virtuoso-taimane-gardner/
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby