Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis


The curtain rises on a beautiful Hawaiian sunset in the 1850s. Kahuna, an old Hawaiian man with mystical religious powers, leads a group of people in prayerful chants to the goddess, Haiika ("Haiika E"). Everyone is awaiting the arrival of Princess Emmaloa, who will marry Chun, a man of Chinese descent. Kahuna disapproves of the marriage, as he feels that she should not be marrying a foreigner.

Emmy and Chu arrive, accompanied by Kinau, Emmy's attendant. The couple asks to be blessed with a son. Suddenly, a black iwa – the sacred bird of the goddess, Haiika – begins to circle in the sky above. This signals a bad omen, Kahuna warns. The bird circles thirteen times. Kahuna hands Emmy thirteen calabash seeds, warning that thirteen trees will grow but none will blossom as long as a foreigner shares her life. Emmy then explains to Chun that the omen means that they will have thirteen daughters, although none will marry until there are blossoms on the trees. Chun dismisses the prophecy as rubbish. He predicts that they will share a wonderful, loving future ("A House on the Hill"). As the wedding follows, Chun's house becomes visible. As the wedding guests exit, the courtyard appears ("Wedding Processional").

Act One

Twenty-six years have passed. In the courtyard of Chun and Emmy's Honolulu mansion, Mana, the young prince of Hawaii, pops up from behind a wall. He whistles a bird call, and Malia, Chun's teenage daughter, appears. They embrace, but she begs him to leave for fear that her father or sisters will see him. He proposes marriage, but she reminds him of her father's Chinese custom: the eldest daughter must marry first. Malia, the seventh daughter, must wait. Mana asks Malia to meet him later at the waterfall. Kinau, overhearing this part of the conversation, wants to know exactly what Malia will learn at the waterfall. Mana answers that she will learn the wonders of nature. He charms Kinau and entices Malia ("Kuli Kuli"). As they see someone approaching, Mana sneaks away. Chun appears carrying a lantern and claiming that he heard a bird. He asks Malia if there is anything that she has to tell. She asks when she may marry and is reminded again that her sister, Isabel, must marry first. Chun tells his daughter that he has a plan. William, Chun's secretary, appears to announce that the boat from Paris has arrived; Chun's plan can begin today. Emmy enters, and Chun informs her that the boat carries Jacques De Villon, the most famous fashion designer in Paris. Chun has hired him to create beautiful outfits for all thirteen of their daughters, reasoning that if the girls are presented properly, the men will come calling ("Paper of Gold").

Kinau strikes a gong. Suddenly, all thirteen girls, aged eight to 25, explode into view. Jacques is a bit overwhelmed by the circus-like atmosphere. Chun introduces his brood ("Thirteen Daughters"). He explains why Jaques is there and announces that there will be a coming-out ball to present the girls to Hawaiian society. Ceceilia, the tomboyish daughter, resists the whole idea, but the others are excited. Jacques displays his wares for the girls, and they dance all around. Cecilia manages to trap Jacques in a large trunk and victoriously slams it shut ("Box Dance"). Emmy and Kinau then discuss how the thirteen trees, as always, have buds, but never blossoms. Emmy attempts to brush away the evil spirits, using ti leaves. Isabel, the eldest daughter and a teacher at the local Christian mission, enters. Kinau coaxes a reluctant Isabel into participating in the ritual. They are interrupted by Dr. Willoughby, Isabel's boss at the mission. He clearly disapproves of this Hawaiian custom and suggests that Emmy should pay a visit to the mission that day.

We find ourselves in a contentious cabinet meeting presided over by Keoki, the King of Hawaii. Chun, the King's treasurer, has suggested a marriage between Mana, the King's eldest son, and Isabel, but the offer is rejected because Isabel is of foreign blood. Matters turn to a mysterious debit of $51,000 on the books. Keoki admits that he has spent too extravagantly. Now, the treasury is empty, and the people are resentful of the King's lifestyle. Chun suggests a public works program to appease the people. Chun will lend the government his own money for roads and hospitals if Keoki agrees to the marriage deal. Keoki agrees.

Mana and Malia meet by the stream. They flirt playfully. Mana again professes his love ("Let-a-go Your Heart"). Two guards interrupt, announcing that the King wishes to see his son at once regarding something very important for the future of Hawaii. At this moment, Malia notices the dreaded iwa bird circling above. The lovers pledge themselves to one another as Mana exits with the guards. Chun surprises Isabel by making an appearance at the mission school ("Children's Hymns"). He tells Isabel that he has arranged for a marriage between her and Mana. She asks for time to think about it but assures her father that there has been no other proposal. She wants to please her parents but also enjoys her work with Dr. Willoughby and the children at the mission.

Dr. Willoughby and Emmy enter. The two men argue about the importance of Christian wedding rituals. As Willoughby begins to quote from The Bible, Chun states that Chinese philosophy is his guide ("A Long and Beautiful Life"). Emmy invites Dr. Willoughby to the upcoming ball. He then suggests that Isabel's parents observe her teaching a lesson but is appalled when he sees that Isabel has taught the children the hula alphabet – complete with pagan movements ("Alphabet"). Willoughby threatens to report her to church authorities. Outraged by his reaction, Isabel quits her job and tells her father that she will accept the arranged marriage.

Malia is alone at the stream making wishes as she throws petals in the water ("Throw a Petal in the Stream"). Isabel appears and tells her sister that she understands how anxious everyone is for her to marry. Malia inquires whether Dr. Willoughby has proposed. Isabel, however, has found another way to make things work. Mana enters. Excitedly, Malia begins to tell him that Isabel has a beau but is devastated to learn that Mana and Isabel are to be married. Mana insists that he has a duty to Hawaii, while Malia argues that marriage should be based on love ("Throw a Petal in the Stream – Reprise").

All of the daughters, except Malia, are being fitted for their gowns. They excitedly question Isabel about wedding plans. Cecilia insists that she will not wear a dress with a bustle. Instead, she wants to wear puka-puka pants. She and Jacques compromise on a lace dress. As he fits her for the dress, he begins to see her in a new light. After Jacques exits, Kinau enters with ti leaf skirts, insisting that she will show the girls the Hawaiian hula dance that is part of their heritage. Emmy also joins in. At first, the girls are embarrassed but they are eventually all swept up in the rhythm and energy of the dance ("Ka Wahine Akamai"). Chun becomes upset when he sees his smallest daughters in ti leaf skirts, practicing the Hawaiian dance. He and Emmy argue about the clash of cultures at play. Emmy is concerned that potential suitors will only marry her daughters for the dowry; Chun assures Emmy that he will make sure all of their daughters marry honorable men ("Daughter or Dowry").

Emmy and Kinau prepare for the ball. Kinau worries that Emmy is no longer thinking like a Hawaiian. Isabel enters, and Kinau leaves to assist the other girls in dressing. Emmy and Isabel discuss what it was like when Emmy and Chun first met. Emmy admits that she gave up everything to marry Chun but that she knew that she loved him at first sight ("You Set My Heart to Music"). Emmy offers flowers for Isabel's hair, and the daughter inadvertently says Dr. Willoughby's name instead of Mana's. The girls continue readying for the party. Cecilia has suddenly blossomed in her new dress, and Chun realizes that she is no longer a little girl. The father and daughter discuss Emmy and Chun's first meeting in much the same way as Emmy and Isabel did moments before ("You Set My Heart to Music – Reprise"). William, Chun's secretary, announces that Dr. Willoughby has arrived and has decided to attend the dance, after all. William also delivers Isabel's Bible, which she left at the mission. Clutching the Bible, Isabel contemplates her confused feelings ("You Set My Heart to Music – Reprise").

The ball is in full swing. Chun presents his daughters to Hawaiian society ("Thirteen Daughters – Reprise"). This leads into a dance. At the start of the dance, Mana and Isabel are paired, but during a change in partners, Mana ends up with Malia, and Isabel with Willoughby. Malia bursts into tears as Isabel runs after her. There is chaos and confusion ("Hawaiian Court Dance"). When the music stops, Chun abruptly announces that the marriage cannot take place, because Isabel and Mana do not love one another. Keoki offers to let Mana and Malia marry, but Chun still insists that Isabel must marry first. Keoki is outraged that their business arrangement has been terminated. He insists that no foreigner will make a fool of him and promptly forbids any of Chun's daughters from getting married.

Act Two

The next day, all of the daughters are on Chun's porch. They are glum and lament that because of the King's anger, they are now all destined to be old maids ("Thirteen Old Maids"). Chun enters, trying to figure a way out of his predicament. He surveys the girls to determine which have potential suitors. The girls announce that Isabel loves Dr. Willoughby, but that he only cares about the land next to the mission school. Chun orders William to purchase that land immediately at any price. Based on the outcome of their father's last plan, the girls are not overly optimistic about the success of this one ("Thirteen Old Maids – Reprise").

Mana and Keoki argue at a meeting of the governors and privy council. Keoki is determined to seize the property of all foreigners as a way to pay off his debt. Mana argues that this will mean the end of Hawaii. Keoki decides that Mana is too influenced by foreigners; he will be sent to Tahiti to learn the way of his ancestors this very afternoon. One of the governors enters to announce that the first of the foreign properties has been confiscated. Mana reflects on his love for Malia, and how she will always be with him ("When You Hear the Wind"). He is led off by guards. The governors continue arguing over how they will divide the proceeds. Keoki advises that instead of bickering over the spoils, they should toast to their success ("Calabash Cousins").

Emmy is in the forest at the statue of the goddess, Hiiaka. She is reading The Bible, but also hears Hawaiian chanting offstage. She is distraught and confused about to whom she should listen and what to believe. Mana and the two guards enter. Mana must first repent at the statue of Hiiaka before sailing to Tahiti. Emmy is distressed to hear that Mana is being sent away. One of the governors enters, announcing that the foreigners are meeting and that they have guns. He sees Emmy and remarks with disgust that she has brought this misfortune upon them. Alone again, Emmy asks Hiiaka if she will be forced to sacrifice everything that she loves ("Goodbye Is Hard to Say").

At Chun's house, the daughters are helping Isabel prepare for her meeting with Willoughby, who has been unknowingly summoned by Chun. Isabel is unsure how she should act. Kinau advises Isabel to use all of her seductive powers ("Hoomalimali"). Chun enters and hands Isabel an envelope for Willoughby. He assures her that it is a Chinese insurance policy. William interrupts, announcing that the representatives of foreign governments are converging on the palace. Chun instructs William to sell or mortgage everything that Chun owns in order to pay the foreign debt.

Willoughby enters. Isabel, with her sisters egging her on from balconies above, tries everything to get close to him. She feigns illness and fainting, and then, finally, lowers her sleeve off of her shoulder. At first, Willoughby is appalled, but after Isabel begins to cry, the two finally declare their mutual love. She hands him the letter, which is a deed for the land next to the mission school. The two rejoice over the work that they will do and the life that they will share ("My Pleasure"). Next, as Jacques reveals that he is already at work on nine wedding dresses, he and Cecilia finally come together ("Puka Puka Pants"). As they dance, two Hawaiian boys enter with vines. Emmy has ordered them to clear the vines from the idol so that the prophecy may finally be fulfilled. Kinau begs her to wait, but Emmy will not relent. Malia enters, distraught at the news that Mana is being sent away. Chun hears the commotion and promises to try to help. Everything is falling apart, and Emmy insists that it is her fault for trying to marry off her daughters. She runs off, despite Chun's pleas.

On the beach, preparing to sail, Mana longs for his country ("My Hawaii"). Malia runs up, embraces him and strings leis around his neck ("Lei of Memories"). Suddenly, Kinau rushes up chanting and pointing to the sky at the black iwa circles, warning them not to sail, for they are doomed, if they do. The sailors throw down their paddles and flee the beach, revealing Chun hidden in the foliage, who leads Mana and Malia to safety.

Emmy appears alone onstage, bracing against the wind and the storm. She falls to her knees at the foot of the idol ("Hiiaka E – Reprise"). Male dancers perform a dance symbolizing Emmy's sacrifice. A female dancer-counterpart of Emmy beseeches, but is thrown about and rejected. As the dance ends in a tremendous thunderclap, she is raised up as if to be sacrificed.

The storm is raging. Inside of the palace, Keoki is besieged by foreigners demanding his resignation. Just as he is about to sign the papers, Chun enters and saves the day by providing the money that the foreigners demand. In return for his service to Hawaii, Keoki declares Chun a Noble of the Highest Order of the Land, and a true Hawaiian. Keoki also grants permission for Malia and Mana to be married ("Calabash Cousins – Reprise").

Emmy is still missing. Kinau and Chun are frantic but they have looked everywhere. There is nothing left to do, but wait. Kinau goes off to bed, and Chun paces alone. Emmy slowly enters. She is haggard and defeated. She explains that she tried to make the sacrifice, but that the storm suddenly ended. Chun assures her that everything is fine now. She must have faith in what they have always had together ("A Long and Beautiful Life – Reprise"). He explains that the King has declared him a "true" Hawaiian. The curse that stood, until the day that no foreigner shares her life, has finally been broken. In the spectacular final celebrations, all of the daughters and their beaux are married in a Christian wedding ceremony ("Finale").