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Cruise to south Pacific in ‘Aloha Y’all’

Y’all better practice at least one catchphrase for seeing the new stage show in Surfside Beach.

The audience exclaimed “Ah-LOHHHHHHHH-ha!” many times on opening night for “Aloha Y’all” last Friday at The Grand Theatre, in the same building where The Carolina Opry and local Legends in Concert shows began and blossomed.

This Polynesian luau show gives guests a cultural, colorful, cheerful taste of five islands in two hours: Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga and New Zealand.

“If you can’t go to Hawaii,” the host said, “then Hawaii comes to you.”

The cast sang, danced and chanted with a three- or four-piece band shifting between guitars and percussion, including taps for a resonating boom resembling a marching band’s bass drum.

The cast delivered a variety of routines that express the look and feel of life and some heritage and history in the south Pacific. All in bare feet, the performers shook and rolled their hips, giving their grass skirts a workout of their own.

During “Blue Hawaii,” as the smiling women took turns with their hulas, the singer’s words reminded the listener to “keep your eyes on the hands,” because they tell the story of the song. The pace slowed even more for the Hawaiian wedding song, to which the bass guitarist lent his vocals.

The spirit of the late Don Ho bounced between both sides of the theater for a sing-along to “Tiny Bubbles,” in a “Myrtle Beach style”: “Tiny bubbles. In the wine. Make me happy. Make me feel fine. …”

The men and women in the show did some group numbers by gender and others by partnering up. Other parts of the show hammered and fired up other steps from the culture. After intermission, a native Samoan showed the steps of husking a coconut by piercing it and pushing down, then cracking it with a rock, “a Little Rock,” he said, injecting some humor in the laborious process. Some children in the front row, including a birthday girl, each got to sip water from respective halves of the demonstrator’s reward broken in two.

Toward the end of the show, the same performer did a fire dance, spinning batons lit on both ends to a rousing beat, all prefaced with a reminder that the act is not safe to do at home.

The occasional “Aloha” chant requests occupied just a small part of the audience participation, for people of all ages might receive an invitation to hop on stage for a group hula, begun with hands on hips, and rotating the body forward, to the sides and back.

If a lone man is asked to stay on stage after the group number, he ought to be in good hands, by simply following the lead lady dancer’s motions, even as her hula crouches lower and lower with the bend of her knees.

Before the show, a group of girls was invited on stage for a quick hula lesson. The motions for a Hawaiian fishing song took two simulated steps, as if to hitchhike then pull the nets. In the second half of the show, youngsters and adults got to swing some white poi balls around, one in each hand, testing each person’s rhythm and coordination.

Flying in talent

In the final days leading to the “Aloha Y’all” debut, Jason Wright, the show manager, said everyone involved is from Polynesia or of such descent.

“These are all people we flew in,” he said. “Some have been dancing luaus for 40 years.”

Wright said these individuals have done many shows in their homeland and that he’s simply “helping them bring their show here.”

A Hartsville native who once lived in Maui, Hawaii, where his grandfather was born and raised, Wright remembered always enjoying childhood Grand Strand getaways from west of Darlington. This new show’s name represents his “two worlds colliding” since he has again settled on the Strand: “Aloha Y’all.”

Wright said having called the 50th state home for years, he sees Hawaii as “such a melting pot of culture worldwide,” including a Japanese presence.

“I can’t imagine anywhere more beautiful than Maui,” he said. “It’s kind of like the dream vacation.”

So for folks whose budgets can’t stretch for a vacation halfway across the Pacific, this show aims to fulfill a wish in smaller, yet authentic, ways.

He said the costumes were made in Hawaii, too, and part of an oak tree was molded into a drum for the show.

Of course, “Aloha” fits for greeting or bidding farewell to someone. However, after the show, one word works for two, to and from the performers and musicians: “Mahalo,” or “Thank you.”