‘Burn’n Love’ heating up the island
LAHAINA – “Burn’n Love,” the new performance at the Maui Theatre in Lahaina, has taken the island by storm. Starring Canadian-born Darren Lee, who won the World Elvis Competition in 1997 and has been performing as Elvis since he was 15, the show is great!
Despite having performed Elvis for 11 years, the longest running Elvis show in the history of Las Vegas, Lee has made a commitment to Maui and Hawaii and moved his wife and two-year-old twins here. He loves Maui and its beaches. Originally, he thought to do an Elvis luau, but the Maui Theatre made an offer he couldn’t refuse. On Dec. 20, he launched “Burn’n Love.”
Lee is not an impersonator – he inhabits Elvis Presley. The show here is unique because of the special relationship Elvis had with Hawaii. The King, as Elvis is referred to, did three concerts here beginning in 1957 and culminating in 1973 with “Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii,” the first concert ever beamed around the world by satellite featuring one performer. In between, he shot three movies beginning in 1961 with “Blue Hawaii,” “Girls, Girls, Girls” in 1962 and “Paradise Hawaiian Style” in 1966.
Lee’s show is a recollection of those 20 years of love for Hawaii. As smoke billowed from center stage, the opening tones of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” better known as the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” wafted across the theater. The wonderful mechanics of the Maui Theatre stage were put to good use as a pillar rose from the stage. When it reached its apex, and the smoke cleared, there was the familiar Belew-designed bejeweled cape, and as Lee turned, he launched into “C.C. Rider” and followed it with “Burn’n Love,” just as Elvis did 40 years ago. The audience knew it was in for a thrill, and Lee never disappointed. For a solid 90 minutes, it was nonstop entertainment of the highest order.
A student of all things Elvis, Lee said that Elvis’ repertoire was 711 tunes, and he mastered more than 450. Although he’s been singing Elvis’ songs since he was 15, he didn’t realize the striking physical resemblance until he was 21.
After the opening number, the audience is whisked back to 1957. Poodle skirts, petty coats, bobby sox and pony tails. Lee made more changes than a chameleon in a kaleidoscope. For the 1957 numbers, he returned in a gold leather jacket and did rocking versions of “Shake Rattle & Roll” and “Teddy Bear,” where he came into the audience and gave a teddy bear to a delighted woman in the second row. I loved his version of “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”
When he found a couple celebrating their anniversary, he sang “Love Me Tender” to her and then he said to the husband, “She’s goin’ home with you, but she’ll be thinkin’ of me,” to the hilarity of the audience. He finished that portion of the show with “Don’t” and “Treat Me Nice.”
Then he was off the stage for his third change. The six wonderful, local dancers (Brooke Seplulveda, Kimberly Paine, Alannah Pascua, Ameilia Nelson, Sky Fung and Jennifer Banko) did great work with choreography by Vegas Choreographer Meghan Hansley. Most of the company are former Maui Academy of Performing Arts and Alexander Academy trained. They changed into prison denims, and Lee returned to do one of Elvis’ most difficult songs, “Jailhouse Rock,” because the phrasing doesn’t give the singer any room to breathe.
All of the many changes are covered by marvelous old films, photos and Tom Moffatt interviews with the King. Lee came into the audience, shook hands and shared greetings. He encouraged audience interaction; at one point, he asked a woman to hold his microphone while he played the ukulele and sang the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” to her. I am certain it was the highlight of her visit to Maui.
Unlike the King, Lee can play the guitar, and his voice is amazing. In “Heartbreak Hotel,” Lee took the string bass (played by Ray Doucet) and ultimately put the bass to shame. His range is nothing short of remarkable.
Besides Doucet, Lee was backed up by a terrific band of Haleman Villarimo and Daniel Querubin on guitars, Dayan Kai on keyboards, Aaron Fulton on drums and singer Felicity Raugust. They duplicated the familiar riffs and backup vocals, which brought true authenticity and verisimilitude to the performance. I found myself referring to Lee as Elvis, he was that good.
Lee had Elvis’ moves down. He shook his hips, thrusted and danced throughout the performance. In “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” he bent his legs at the knee, got on his toes and did numerous pelvic thrusts; talk about a difficult and strenuous athletic move.
If you get the all-access, Diamond level ticket, you are allowed to remain in the theater after the show for the best meet and greet I’ve ever experienced. Lee is so personable, but beyond that, the Diamond devotees get a chance to hear a post concert, where Lee is unplugged, playing an acoustic guitar and taking requests. I asked for “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.” They also get a CD, logo embossed tote bag and a photo op with the King. It doesn’t get any better.
Credit for the high-quality show needs to go to Executive Producer Mike Kattawar and Rick Dunaj, who is not only the show’s general manager, but he also co-wrote the show with Chris Coaley.
“Burn’n Love” plays Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at the Maui Theatre in Lahaina. Tickets range from $59 to $99 and are worth every cent, especially the Diamond level. Remember, a portion of every ticket goes to the Maui Food Bank. The night I was there, the equivalent of 150 meals were donated. Go to www.Mauitheatre.com for tickets and information.