It started out with a goofy idea. I'd wear a tux to the grand opening of the Maui Community Arts & Cultural Center, the original name of Pundy Yokouchi's state-of-the-art complex down by the Kahului Harbor.
The Center was a long time coming. It began with dreams of a purpose-built theater at Maui Community College. The idea languished for decades until adopted by Colin and Margaret Cameron of Maui Land & Pineapple Co. The project was ramrodded by Yokouchi, a Realtor who loved fine art. The one-time chairman of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts wanted a free public art gallery and realized it would require maintenance revenue. A 1,200-seat main theater and an amphitheater would supply the kala.
Maui Community Theater - today's Maui OnStage - and the Maui Academy of Performing Arts went to work promoting the project and trying to raise funds. It would be a relief to perform in a real theater after decades in makeshift venues.
An aside: The Center dropped the word "community" from its name to make it easier to get grants. OK, but . . . I can't stand the use of "Mack," assuming everyone in the state knows it refers to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
Before the Center, the Baldwin High School Auditorium was the major performing space on the island and was used extensively by the Maui Philharmonic Society, which imported touring musical groups even though the acoustics were terrible. Theater productions were limited to one weekend at a time and sets had to be built off-site and trucked in.
The first event in the Center's Castle Theater was held in the week of the grand opening. It was a showing of "Schindler's List" for school kids. The grand opening event was a MCT production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." A production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" was staged in the wing that was supposed to be MAPA's permanent home.
Everyone who was anyone on Maui would be at the grand opening. It promised to be a major event in the evolution of Maui. It warranted showing up in a "formal" costume inspired by the always creatively fashionable Betty Green, aka Liz Janes and Liz Janes-Brown.
Maui formal wear is an oxymoron. For men, formal is usually an aloha shirt and slacks with or without a jacket. It might be fun, I thought, to show up in a tuxedo. That meant heading to the corner of Market and Vineyard streets in Wailuku.
For proms and weddings, the place to go was Gilbert's Formal Wear. A couple of weeks before the Center's opening, The Maui News theater reviewer went into the unassuming shop named for the owner's late husband, Gilbert Hotta.
Susanne Sasayo T. Hotta greeted the haole man standing in the middle of a rainbow of tuxedo and dinner jacket outfits and shirts that needed cufflinks. There were cases displaying matching bow ties and cummerbunds. Mrs. Hotta had 'em all for rent.
One small rack held jackets that were for sale. They were all veterans, a little too tatty for young dreams of memorable events - perfect for the project in mind.
"I'm looking for a tux to wear to the Center's opening," I said.
"Buy or rent?" she asked. "We have these for sale."
Who knew when the costume might be needed again? "I'll buy."
Mrs. Hotta looked at her customer and went straight to one specific jacket on the rack. It was black polyester. There were faint creases in the sleeves from where they had once been turned up for shorter arms. It had the prerequisite satin collar and trim on the pockets. An inside "Gilbert's" label identified the jacket as No. 421.
Mrs. Hotta had a sharp eye. The jacket fit perfectly.
"We have matching pants with a satin stripe down the side and you'll need a shirt, some cufflinks. a tie and a cummerbund," she said. It wasn't a sales pitch, just soft-spoken advice from an auntie. I passed on the pants but got the accessories. It had to be the most pleasant retail transaction I ever made.
The not-so-formal outfit - jacket, bow tie, cummerbund, blue denim work shirt instead of the tux model, worn-out blue jeans and cowboy boots - was a big hit with the aloha-shirt crowd. They matched me grin for grin.
Two decades later, the tux coat hangs in the back of the closet. The cufflinks, cummerbund and bow tie are in a drawer. Can't remember what happened to the shirt. I do remember the gracious proprietor of Gilbert's Formal Wear. Services for Susanne Sasayo T. Hotta begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at St. Anthony Church.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.