Watch 1944 Chinatown Come Dangerously to Life at the “Last Taxi Dance” Premiere

Head to the Hawai‘i Theatre Center on Aug. 23 to support your local filmmaking community by catching director Brayden Yoder’s highly buzzed-about film, followed by a cast Q&A, a behind-the-scenes look and a special performance of the movie’s theme song from Starr Kalahiki. Then head across the street to a dance party.

Update: The premiere, Q&A, live performance and after party have been postponed due to Hurricane Lane. Check back for information on the new event date.


Last Taxi Dance
Photos: Courtesy of Last Taxi Dance


Short on minutes but long on impact, Last Taxi Dance has succeeded even before its first screening by making the most of its bold subject matter—the dime-a-dance halls on Hotel Street and their pressure cooker combination of local girls selling a brief human connection to battle-scarred, white male military men—while drawing on a who’s-who of Island talent. During the runup to the filming on a rainy June night on Nu‘uanu Avenue, the sheer mass of acting, dancing, costuming, filming and other local luminaries threatened to tear open a portal to 1944, especially when the vintage-costumed swing dancers cut loose to a live band.


Behind-the-scenes of Last Taxi Dance: On the Dance Floor from Brayden Yoder on Vimeo.


With Iraqi War vet and Kailua native Brayden Yoder writing from a place of deep personal commitment—his 2013 short, Breakdown, looked at a similar sex-trafficking milieu in modern India—the script first attracted producer Ciara Lacy. “Without Ciara, none of this would’ve happened,” says Yoder of Lacy, who Yoder says helped connect him to Pacific Islanders in Communications, a major funder. Lacy is well known as the breakout director-producer of the 2017 Hawai‘i International Film Festival: Her documentary Out of State is about Native Hawaiians outsourced to prisons on the Mainland working to rehabilitate themselves through their culture. It won HIFF’s Made in Hawai‘i prize and has been touring festivals internationally ever since.


SEE ALSO: Film Review: Last Taxi Dance Swings, Connects and Frightens at the Same Time


Yoder himself wrote his script with a singular actress in mind: Danielle Zalopany. Beginning in 2007, Zalopany has made a series of indelible impressions on the stage, primarily at Kumu Kahua Theatre. A naturally regal actor who can plumb the depths—whether as Princess Ka‘iulani or playing a street addict in the forthcoming feature Waikīkī: The Film—Zalopany is Mahea, the singer who is the only dancer at Club Paradise who can turn a man down.


Last Taxi Dance
Writer-director Brayden Yoder


Finding the male lead, and the man Mahea spurns, wasn’t easy. “Max Holtz had done a lot of stuff at Kumu Kahua,” says Yoder, and Zalopany had recommended him from the start. But he hadn’t been available to audition. “The thing is, there are a lot of good male actors here who are local, hapa, Asian and so forth,” says Yoder. “But not a lot of white male actors here could carry off the character of Soldier, who’s the heavy. But when Max auditioned, he blew the doors off.”


BEHIND-THE-SCENES OF LAST TAXI DANCE: The Singer & the Soldier from Brayden Yoder on Vimeo.


Getting the period and the details just right was an obsession. Historian DeSoto Brown consulted; Shoal of Time author Gavan Daws contributed lyrics to the original theme song, composed by Stephen Inglis with steel guitar work by Alan Akaka and slack key by Jeff Peterson. Anna Foster did the costumes with research by Jennifer Iacovelli, drawing on vintage Kāhala outfits. Choreographer Ahnya Chang, a Punahou classmate of Yoder’s, worked with him to create swing dances that also functioned as dramatic vehicles.


Such is the magnetism surrounding the project that the Hawai‘i Theatre Center became an early backer, seeing the production and its premiere as a way to highlight a strong community push under new president and CEO Greg Dunn—who appears in the film and even plays a mean ‘ukulele as part of the Club Paradise house band. HTC provided the location for the shoot at the now-vacant space of the old Indigo Restaurant at 1111 Nu‘uanu Ave.


BEHIND-THE-SCENES OF LAST TAXI DANCE: The Look from Brayden Yoder on Vimeo.


The same space is now also getting its own premiere as an extension of the HTC. “It’s going to be for dance performances, maybe a black box theatre, special events,” says Dunn, adding that the theater is looking for new ways to expand its reach and to support the various performing arts communities.


The 7 p.m. Aug. 23 premiere is a fundraiser for the Hawai‘i Theatre Center. After a red-carpet entrance and the screening of the film, there will be a behind-the-scenes documentary and a Q&A with the director, producer and two leads, moderated by HONOLULU’s film buff (that’s me), followed by a live performance of the theme song by Starr Kalahiki and the Club Paradise band led by Stephen Inglis.


Last Taxi Dance


Useful Ticket Information and Links

  • Premiere Tickets
    – Includes screening of Last Taxi Dance, Q&A, behind-the-scenes documentary and live performance
    – Purchase your tickets via Hawai‘i Theatre Center's website

  • VIP After Party
    – Includes pupu, drinks, swing dancing, live music and silent auction at 1111 Nu‘uanu Ave.
    – Purchase your tickets here 

  • Support Local
    – Make a donation here

  • You’ll be able to catch the film Sept. 7 at HTC when it screens at the Ohina Short Film Showcase.


Cast & Crew

  • Brayden Yoder, writer and director

  • Ciara Lacy, producer

  • Robert Bates, producer and editor

  • Concepcion Alicino, producer

  • Chapin Hall, cinematography

  • Alana Bombino, production design

  • Anna Foster, costumes

  • Jennifer Iacovelli, costume research

  • Akemi Bischoff, casting

  • Ahnya Chang, choreographer

  • Stephen Inglis, composer

  • Matt Bowen, composer

  • Alan Akaka, steel guitar

  • Jeff Peterson, slack key guitar

  • Starr Kalahiki, vocals

  • Kit Ebersbach, arranger

  • Cameron Spencer, behind the scenes documentary

  • Greg Doi, gaffer

  • Laura “Reezy” Essenberg, social media