The three young ali‘i (Pauahi, Emma and Kalākaua) play the string game hei when the ancient prophet Kapihe enters and cuts the string while prophesying the eventual fall of the house of Kamehameha.
◼ Scene One
Kapihe solicits help from the audience to come to the aid of the dying King, William Charles Lunalilo, who has yet to name an heir in “Attend the Majesty.” As the king stirs, he asks who the “shadows” are who surround his bed. He discovers these are loyal subjects waiting to hear his decision on an heir. In “Shadows on the Wall” he dances with the potential candidates, considering their fitness to reign as the next monarch. At song‘s end he cannot decide and returns to bed to dream. In his sleep, he dreams of his ancestors giving him advice on what to do. “Leave It To the Gods,” advises him to choose two candidates, as his ancestors did before, and let destiny decide who is best to rule the kingdom. But who will the two be?
First up is Bernice Pauahi. Is she really best to rule? She was offered the throne once by Lot Kapuāiwa (Kamehameha V) and she turned him down (again!). In “No Can,” Keali‘i Pauahi considers if this was the best choice. Was it selfish of her to refuse the crown and leave Lunalilo to suffer through a year of controversy? At song’s end, the spark has been lit in Pauahi to run for queen.
Next there is Queen Emma to consider. She is William Charles Lunalilo’s favorite, but does he really want to subject her to the travails of the monarchy? In “Take A Tuck”, Emma is up to the fight. She has just returned from horseback riding and is having a dress refitted for that night’s get together at the home of Charles Reed Bishop and Pauahi. Her crosshairs are set on only one opponent and that is Colonel David Kalākaua. She debates her qualifications over his, boasting about how much the people love her more; and that she won’t hesitate to go to the British for help in defeating him.
William Charles begins to drift off. He dreams of a future where the Hawaiian culture has disappeared, absorbed into a global community (“Ka Nohona Starts to Fade”). In his despair, he begins to consider his former opponent David Kalākaua.
“Kū Kanaka” reveals a rally Kalākaua and his sister Lydia Kamaka‘eha are holding to help support the ailing King. But is there an ulterior motive? The song celebrates the enlightened return of the Hawaiian culture from the dark ages of Western assimilation, and revels in the wonders of Hawaiian self-empowerment. To underscore this, Kamaka‘eha sings one of her hit songs (“Sanoe”) along with Lunalilo’s platinum single, “‘Alekoki.” At scene’s end the crowd is stirred to a frenzy and Kalākaua’s popularity has grown that much more.
◼ Scene Two
To consider this swing in the electorate, Pauahi and Bishop discuss the Colonel’s growing popularity (“Game Changer”) at their small social. Queen Emma adds her two-cents worth followed by Kamaka‘eha. The lines are drawn. It is the House of Kamehameha versus that of Kalākaua. As the discussion concludes, Pauahi seems to be leaning towards running for the throne. Bishop, Kamaka‘eha, and Queen Emma question her strength to be a strong leader.
Pauahi rebukes them by explaining all this talking will get them nowhere in “Hū Hewa.” Emma agrees. Pauahi starts to come into her own as she lays out her platform, which has to do with educating the future generations before the culture disappears. Bishop argues that an election can be dirty and aspersions may be cast. Pauahi argues back, but is finally silenced with the off-handed, unintended comment that one requirement of a monarch is an heir.
Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani steps in at this point to salve things over. She has a new strategy that she borrowed from Aristophanes’ play, Lysistrata in “Ai Kapu.” She rallies the women to empower themselves against the misogynistic patriarchy, who believe wahine are too weak to guide the very race they, themselves created. In the end, the women chase the men to their cave and the women rally behind Pauahi.
The social concludes with Pauahi and Kamaka‘eha agreeing to disagree, yet remain forever sisters in “E Kamaka‘eha.”
Act one closes with William Charles Lunalilo waking from his dream. He asks if any of the shadows have decided to come forward and dance with him and relieve him of his present burden. In “No Ke Ano Ahiahi” his wish comes true. But who will the gods choose to be the next Monarch?
The act begins again with Kapihe’s plea (“Come Elect Your Majesty”). Except now, it is not to attend his majesty, but to come elect the next monarch. He lays out the choices: Emma, Kalākaua, or Pauahi.
◼ Scene One
At his campaign headquarters, Kalākaua is distraught because Pauahi is ahead in the polls in “Whitebread.” There seems to be no stopping her, especially with Emma supporting her. His opportunist associate, Walter Murray Gibson “Kipikona,” suggests he attack Pauahi with a slanderous article in Gibson’s newspaper Ka Nūhou Hawai‘i, questioning her pedigree. Kalākaua hesitates at first, but agrees when he realizes the “end will justify the means.”
◼ Scene Two
Pauahi is hosting a gathering at her place under the tamarind tree. It is an all -wahine social (except for Charles Reed Bishop who is serving food and tending to the needs of the women) and they are creating campaign slogans and items for her election. Queen Emma, in her way, is showing the other women how to play croquet. Pauahi is uncomfortable with this because she feels it is too soon after the death of Lunalilo. In “‘Ohi ‘Ohi Nā Liko Lehua,” Emma assures her that William would have approved because he was a “carpe diem” type of guy. Pauahi remains uncomfortable because of the play and the materialistic nature of the campaign. Ruth steps in and helps assuage Pauahi’s apprehension. Pauahi agrees with reservations.
Enter the Colonel. Nā wāhine are offended that he and his consorts have the temerity to enter their sanctuary. Kalākaua, always the gentleman, greets them in his hospitable manner. He is rebuked. Finally he lays it on the line in “The Ebb And Flow Of Politico” handing Pauahi an ultimatum to drop out of the race or be exposed in the news. Kipikona hands her a copy of the article and they exit, but not without a challenge from Queen Emma. Reality strikes home with Pauahi. The campaign will be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Bishop enters and is puzzled why the gathering has broken up. Pauahi hands him the draft of Kipikona’s article. She has decided to drop out of the race. She realizes that running for the throne was not really her. In “Oh, My Pauahi”, Bishop tries to cheer her up. She avoids him because of her shame that he had tried to warn her all along that it wasn’t in her to run for the throne, and now she realizes the truth. Bishop convinces her that she doesn’t need to be Queen to help her people. He insists that a democracy takes good leadership chosen by an educated electorate. With a new goal in mind, Pauahi is convinced and decides on a new course of action.
◼ Scene Three
The final election scenario is set between Queen Emma and Colonel Kalākaua. The scene begins with a montage of voices giving their opinion for both candidates. This cacophony culminates in 1874. This weigh-in allows both candidates to face each other in a final debate before the legislature goes to make their decision. Kapihe returns to conduct the balloting, calling off the names of all forty-five legislatures voting on the election of the new monarch. As the role call commences, the gloves have fallen, and the two candidates duke it out in a rap battle, boasting about whose qualifications are superior. As the voting concludes it has become obvious that Kalākaua is going to win and Kamaka‘eha leads his party in a victory song, “Ka Hae Kalaunu.”
After the results are announced, 39 to 6 in Kalākaua’s favor, a protest begins, brought on by the supporters of Queen Emma, who feel the legislature really did not represent the true will of the maka‘āinana (“Bitter Waters”). The protest turns ugly. It devolves into a riot. The riot reaches its climax. Pauahi enters and asks “is this the way it’s done: civil minds to savage ones, by self-doubt our race overrun?” Kalākaua’s supporters celebrate with a chorus of “Hawai’i Pono’ī” as the other ali’i ponder the future of Hawai’i.
The opera concludes with a final anthem, the words penned in 1843 at the resolution of the Paulet Affair and the restoration of Hawaiian sovereignty by Admiral Thomas. The song is a declaration of love for the ali‘i and the aupuni, as Hawaiians look forward to the future with gratitude for all that came before (“E Mele Me Ka Ho’omaika’i”).