The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: The Spectacle of Theater in the Islands Goes Back to the 18th Century
HONOLULU Magazine emerged from predecessor Paradise of the Pacific, which began in 1888, fulfilling a commission by King Kalākaua. That makes this the oldest continuously published magazine west of the Mississippi with an enviable archive worth diving into each month. Here’s a look back at September 1936.
The new Waikīkī Theatre opens on Kalākaua Avenue with a rainbow-shaped proscenium flanked by artificial coconut trees and images of moving clouds projected on the ceiling and walls. It is the largest venue of Consolidated Amusement Co., which also opened the Hawai‘i Theatre in 1922 and the Princess Theatre in 1925, among others. But the spectacle of theater goes back much farther in the Islands.
“As early as the year 1794 the Hawaiians performed in what might be called the first Sylvan Theatre of Hawaii,” Paradise writes. “Captain George Vancouver, in February of that year, saw five men standing up, each with a highly polished tapering spear of wood in the left and a small piece of the same wood in the right hand. With these small pieces they beat on the spear as an accompaniment to their voices in songs.”
And in 1832, the Potomac, a U.S. frigate, which had just arrived off Waikīkī, “with its Band, ‘made a display at the Theatre Royal Honorura.’ The King, being desirous of seeing the Potomac’s troupe perform, ‘offered his Palace for the occasion.’ The scenery was taken ashore and the Palace transformed into a theatre. The performance went remarkably well.”
The Hawaiian Opera House opened in 1896, two years before the Orpheum, which presented stage shows at first, then films—one of the first theaters in the Islands to do so. “Modern theatres have replaced the ancient,” Paradise writes in 1936. “The old has been replaced by the new. Styles have changed. But the show must and does go on!”
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At the Waikīkī Theatre, renamed the Waikīkī 3 in 1969, the curtains close in 2002 and the building, still considered by many to be the most beautiful movie theater in Hawai‘i history, is demolished in 2005.
As Consolidated continues to renovate its theaters, stay tuned for the reopening of Kāhala Theatres, which closed in 2019 for some work, including the installation of recliner seats, a new lounge and an updated concession menu. Renovations were supposed to be complete in 2020, but, you know.
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