After more than three years of planning and $3 million, the Polynesian Cultural Center premiered its new evening show in August: "Ha: Breath of Life."
Using new animation, surround-sound, digital lighting, staging effects, costumes, choreography, music, renovated backstage facilities and a cast of more than 100 — most students at BYU–Hawaii — "Ha" follows the story of a young couple expecting their first child.
When a volcano erupts, they flee their home and survive a storm at sea. Then, each of the major Polynesian groups at the Cultural Center tells a portion of the story in its own unique way.
Tongans provide the couple with a new home and celebrate the birth of their son, Mana. Hawaiians celebrate Mana's survival into boyhood with feasting and hula. Maoris help Mana develop into a strong young man. In Samoa, Mana literally walks through fire to prove his love for the beautiful Lani. Tahitians fete their marriage. In Fiji, Mana defends his home and mourns the death of his father. As Mana reflects on his life, the Samoan fire knife dance symbolically represents the circle of life motif. And in the finale, the entire cast celebrates the first breath of life of Mana and Lani's new daughter, Hina.
The PCC launched its new night show on Aug. 14 not only with typical Polynesian pageantry, a VIP reception and a complimentary showing for the entire community, but also with a sense that "Ha" departed from its proven night-show formula. For example, approximately nine million people enjoyed its predecessor, "Horizons: Where the Sea Meets the Sky," over a 14-year run of about 4,500 performances.
In fact, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve was a surprise visitor during the last showing of Horizons. "It was a coincidence that we planned to be here on vacation at this time," said Elder Oaks, who served as chairman of the PCC's board of directors in the summer of 1995 when Horizons started. "It's been a grand celebration. Much has been accomplished. We thank you for your diligence and high excellence, and you join with me in looking forward to a new day."
PCC President and CEO Von D. Orgill remarked, "Over three years ago, we wondered if we could build off of the great successes of the past, combining the best of the cultures in a way that would also tell a powerful story that would be felt and remembered by our guests. Now, with a growing number of performances of 'Ha behind us, we know the answer is a resounding, 'Yes!' "
"Guests love the entire experience at the PCC and the night show is always a marvelous climax to their day," Brother Orgill continued, pointing out that satisfaction surveys show between 92-96 percent of guests rank the center's night show as excellent.
During the premiere performance of "Ha" Ricky Suaava, from American Samoa, played the role of the mature Mana; Lucie Wilson of Laie was Lani; and Atu Vaka and Lupiana Fiefia — both of Haateiho, Tonga — were the father and mother. Mykle Keni and William Mahoni, both of Laie, played younger versions of Mana. Other leads include Terina Oto and Boyd "Junior" Lauano.
PCC theater director Ellen Gay Dela Rosa explained that the main characters were selected several months ago.
"We selected them on their coordination, stage presence, poise and, of course, they had to be good at dancing in all Polynesian styles. They had to be good at getting along with their fellow cast members. We also wanted to make sure we had the right ones in terms of personality and integrity."
"It was very difficult to make a choice, but we couldn't have asked for better performers," Sister Dela Rosa continued. "We haven't developed stars in our theater system — everybody is considered a star here — but these worked very hard and earned the right to be where they are."
Brother Suaava said, "I feel privileged to play the main role and I love doing it, but I also realize there's a lot to be done to attain the goal of the whole show. This has been a wonderful opportunity for me, and it's a great show for everyone to come see."
And Brother Vaka, who served in the Colorado Denver South mission, said he really enjoys acting in the role of Mana's father. "It's kind of like a practice for me being a father in the future," he said.
"We had an incredible team working very, very hard to create this new experience," Brother Orgill said. "We trust that 'Ha: Breath of Life' is going to be a favorite of the visitor industry for many years to come."
The Church founded the Polynesian Cultural Center, which is located next to BYU–Hawaii, in 1963. For more information, go to www.polynesia.com.