THE HAWAIIAN ROOM: A Documentary with a Lot of Heart

Dancers at The Hawaiian Room, NYC's beloved show that is now the subject of a great movie

Dancers at The Hawaiian Room, NYC’s beloved show that is now the subject of a great movie

Last night I attended a screening of one of the best feel-good movies I’ve ever seen.

The Hawaiian Room is a documentary by film maker Ann Marie Kirk of Hawaii and the Hula Preservation Society.  It tells the story of a New York City show that was, alas, before my time.  From the 1920’s until the 1960’s, there existed, in the basement of the Lexington Hotel in Manhattan, what looked like a fantastic nightclub with a Hawaiian theme.  It featured a Hawaiian band, Hawaiian food, and Hawaiian entertainment.

It’s always a joy to hear people reminisce about the happiest times in their lives, and the documentary is filled with the fond recollections of dancers and patrons.  Women in Hawaii had few job options during the time when The Hawaiian Room was in business.  Many  of the dancers were initially employed in positions at canneries.  However, many of the ones who were chosen to work at The Hawaiian Room came from families of court dancers to the Hawaiian royal family, and all had studied at hulaus – dancing schools that specialized in the hula.

It was intriguing to hear one of the dancers recall how, though a lot of the hulau students were not well off financially, their teacher had insisted that they always present themselves well and that they be nicely dressed.  If a student arrived for lessons in a wrinkled outfit, she would be sent home to change in to something more appropriate.  I got the feeling these girls were not just taught how to dance, but how to bring out the very best in themselves, too.

Only the very best hula dancers were accepted to come to New York.  Once chosen for work at the room, the dancers brought the songs and dances of their islands to ours, Manhattan.  The girls found they were the stars of the show and were treated beautifully.  There was a radio show broadcast from the room.  The dancers were often on television, once it came into vogue.  New Yorkers waited in lines outside of the hotel to get into The Hawaiian Room, and celebrities visited the venue nightly.  One of the hula dancers picked a man out of the audience to dance with her one night and only found out later what his name was: Sidney Poitier!

Many of the dancers returned to New York City to see the screening of the movie, which was held at the Nightingale School on the Upper East Side.  Thank goodness I arrived early: the turnout was vast, and the auditorium was packed!  Musicians sang while the audience came in, and lots of them were attired in stunning Hawaiian outfits, with flowers in their hair.  They turned out to be the women who had once starred at the revue.

At the end of the screening they took stage and gave the audience a treat.  They sang some of their old numbers!  I got a chance to play filmmaker myself, not easy since I’d never taken a video on my new camera before, but I winged it.  Here it is.  Take a look and enjoy!  Here’s what my camera managed to capture.  If only I had been old enough to have seen The Hawaiian Room live before it closed!

Here’s a trailer from the movie:

The organization Na Oiwi NYC sponsors Hawaiian cultural events and I suggest that anyone interested in attending can connect with them at www.facebook.com/naoiwinyc.

The website for the movie is www.bluecratermedia.com and I, for one, can’t wait – already – until it comes out in DVD.

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