burn ‘n love & fleetwood’s on front st.: all shook up in lahaina

BW_BurnNLoveElvis Presley fell in love with Hawai‘i. (Who could blame him?) His first visit to the Islands was in November of 1957, and his last was in March of 1977. Hawai‘i had become Elvis’s favorite vacation destination, and over those 20 years he visited often. In addition to several live performances—the most well known being “Elvis, Aloha from Hawai‘i,” which was telecasted worldwide on January 14, 1973—he also made three movies here: “Blue Hawai‘i,” “Girls! Girls! Girls!” and “Paradise, Hawaiian Style.”

Elvis tribute artist Darren Lee also fell in love with Hawai‘i—specifically Maui. “I came to Maui in 2007, attended a lu‘au, and vowed that some day I would be in a show here,” he says. In December of 2013, “Burn’n Love,” a live production celebrating Elvis’s life, music, and movies, premiered at the Maui Theatre in Lahaina. Two years later, Burn’n Love is rated the #1 Theater & Performance experience on Maui on TripAdvisor, wowing audiences four nights a week.

Allyson and I are making it a complete evening by taking advantage of Burn’n Love’s dining partnership with Fleetwood’s on Front St. Guests who purchase Gold-, Platinum-, or Diamond-level tickets to the show may also add on a dinner certificate ($50 per person) for a special pre-show, three-course, prix-fixe meal at the restaurant.

Fleetwood’s is the place to be at sunset, when bagpiper Roger McKinley heralds the setting sun with the unique harmonics of his instrument. He explains Mick Fleetwood is proud of his part-Scottish heritage, and instituted the nightly ceremony to pay homage to his roots. Following the bagpipe performance, Vene Chun, dressed in traditional Hawaiian regalia, blows the pu and intones an oli after exchanging ha—the breath of life—with Roger by means of a honi. Fleetwood also believe it’s important for newcomers to experience a little slice of Hawaiian culture while at his restaurant.

In the meantime, our exceptional server Jenny has brought our entrees: succulent grilled Hawaiian shutome filet, served with wild arugula-quinoa salad, cherry tomatoes, lemon-thyme vinaigrette, and a luscious mango butter sauce. After a satisfying sweet treat of raw cookie dough with housemade vanilla bean whipped cream, Allyson and I head down the street to the Maui Theatre for Burn’n Love.

Before the show begins, interesting film clips and Elvis trivia is projected on the theatre’s movie screen. Did you know Elvis had a twin brother named Jesse Garon Presley who died shortly after birth? Or that one of Elvis’s mottos was, “When things go wrong don’t go with them”? Now you know!

Burn’n Love begins with Darren Lee appearing on a raised platform dressed in a white pantsuit and cape with red satin lining. To say this man channels Elvis is a serious understatement. Sporting Elvis’s trademark sideburns and pompadour hairstyle, Darren is the closest thing to seeing “The King of Rock and Roll” reincarnated.

The show opens with a spirited version of “See See Rider,” with Darren skillfully accompanied by backup singer Felicity Raugust and musicians Allan Stevens, Dayan Kai, David Graber, and James Somera. If this toe-tapping, hand-clapping rendition doesn’t get you nearly jumping out of your seat, I don’t know what will!

For “Blue Suede Shoes,” Darren is joined on stage by five fit, energetic dancers dressed in flouncy poodle skirts, which they frequently twirl and shake, and sparkly blue (of course!) dance shoes.

While Darren disappears backstage for a costume change, Felicity demonstrates her own vocal chops on “Don’t Be Cruel.” When Darren returns, he’s decked out in a gold lame jacket festooned with glittering sequins, and jet-black pants and loafers.

During “I Got a Woman,” Darren displays his mastery of the trademark Elvis movements that were considered positively scandalous back in the 1950s, when Elvis first performed “Hound Dog” on TV’s The Milton Berle Show: hip thrusts, utilizing the mic stand for his version of “pole dancing,” and generally shaking his booty to the delight of this evening’s audience. “Thank you very much, ladies,” he shouts. “And the rest of ya,” he speaks sotto voce, as if as an afterthought. Hilarious!

It wouldn’t be an Elvis tribute show without Darren coming in to the audience to croon “Love Me Tender” to one lucky lady in the front row. He drops to one knee, takes her hand into his own, then gently kisses her hand at the end of the song to thunderous applause. A bluesy version of “Heartbreak Hotel” gives bass player David Graber the opportunity to shine. He obliges by periodically spinning his instrument while deftly plucking the thick strings in accompaniment.

Drummer James Somera introduces “Jail House Rock” by using a wire brush to produce a “slappy” staccato jazz rhythm, while the dancers, clad in black pants with matching jackets and black-and-white striped “jailbird” shirts, erect a “jail” replete with “cell bars.” “Jailhouse Rock” is the title song from Elvis’s movie of the same name, which was released in 1957.

At approximately the half-way point, the show “comes home” to Hawai‘i, with Darren clad in a red & white aloha shirt and white pants, with a yellow lei draped around his neck. After crooning “Blue Hawai‘i,” Darren is joined onstage by his dancers, who look deliciously leggy in short ruffled floral-print shirts and draped bikini tops, for an energetic performance of “Girls! Girls! Girls!”

Darren has changed back in his white pantsuit to perform the Elvis classic “Suspicious Minds,” followed by “I Did It My Way,” made popular by Frank Sinatra, during which Darren demonstrates he’s no lightweight in the vocal department either, hitting a perfect high note at the end of the song.

It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for: “Burn’n Love.” “We named the show Burn’n Love because that was one of Elvis’s most recognizable and most-loved songs,” Darren says. “It also described Elvis’s deep love for the people of Hawai‘i.” The dancers strut their stuff in orange & yellow printed harem pants and midriff tops with ruffled sleeves, as confetti spills from the ceiling and Darren flashes a shaka.

After a heartfelt rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Darren all but disappears in a cloud of smoke, while rising up from the stage atop a white grooved column.

After the show, those of us with Diamond Level tickets gather for a meet and greet/photo opportunity with Darren. “The best part of performing Elvis’s music is meeting people who are big Elvis fans,” he says. “They love his songs as much as I do. When they tell me, ‘You sound just like Elvis,’ that’s the biggest compliment in the world. It’s a dream come true to finally get here to Maui and do this. I want guests to get the feeling not necessarily that they saw Elvis, but that they found out what it would have been like to see Elvis. Hopefully they’ll leave thinking ‘That’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Elvis.’”

We think Elvis would approve.

–heidi pool



Burn’n Love, a toe-tapping, hand-clapping, highly energetic Elvis tribute show. Ticket prices range from $59.00 to $109.99.


The Maui Theatre, 878 Front Street. Validated parking for Maui Theatre is available at Outlets of Maui, directly across from the theatre on Papalaua Street. Parking spaces are marked for Maui Theatre. Bring ticket for validation when you check in.


Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday 7:30pm. Check in before 7pm.


Tickets & more information: 856-7900; mauitheatre.com; burnnlove.com.


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