Classmates, family, and friends of Broadway star Keala Settle, who played Lettie Lutzon aka the Bearded Lady in The “Greatest Showman,” honored her major film role by renting out both movie screens at Laie Palms Cinemas for an exclusive screening on Jan. 9.
Laie local Kaniela Kalama, a good friend of Settle, came up with the idea of the event and even dressed up as Hugh Jackman’s character P.T. Barnum. He said, “She grew up in Laie and we love her.” He explained the purpose of buying out the theater screens was to allow people to sing, dance, and be loud while watching the movie.
Kalama mentioned how almost everyone who attended the event had already watched the movie multiple times. “These guys know the dance moves from all the songs. We want to sing and dance, so we reserved the whole theater to do that and not get in anybody’s way and make anyone mad,” he said with a big smile and some laughs.
As soon as the movie started, the audience sang and clapped in unison. There were people dancing around the hall and in front of the screen. From the adults to the kids, everyone sang the lyrics and performed the dance moves. Kira Tai Hook, a 10-year-old audience member, said she loves the movie and this was her third time watching it. She mentioned how she would listen to the music every single day.
Hook sang all the songs during the entire movie. “My favorite part is when they are singing ‘Rewrite the Stars.’” Her favorite characters are Settle’s and Zendaya’s.
Alicen Nielsen, co-owner of the Laie Palms Cinemas Theater, said, “We love doing this whenever we’ve got some kind of new movie. This is fun. This theater is the kind of place where the community meets and enjoys a great movie and a great time.”
Kalama shared how Keala Settle was a big motive for him to start singing. “I liked singing, but I wasn't a good singer and she made me sing with her in our senior talent show. She used to yell at me that I wouldn’t sing loud enough.”
He shared that Settle gave him the confidence to start singing, “Now, I love singing. She was the one who pushed me.” From there, he kept on signing and was part of a church group called Musical Truth with Settle.
Kalani Shelford, another good friend of the actress who helped set up the event, dressed up as Keala Settle’s character. She said this was the second time they were renting a whole entire movie theater. “We started at Ko’olau Theaters, then we heard that the movie was coming here to Laie, so we wanted to go ahead and support her again. We are just so proud of her and what she’s done.”
Shelford said everyone who attended the event was somehow close to Settle and acknowledged her success. “We knew her since she was a little girl, so to see her progress and where she is now feels like a great achievement and accomplishment not just for her, but also for her family.”
Shelford said the Settle family are all great singers and shared how Settle’s dad was an especially great supporter for her.
Jolene Kanahele, an administrative assistant at the Education Department, also helped make the movie event happen. She shared her earliest memories of Keala. “The first time I saw her sing was when I got back from my mission back in 1988 at a PCC Talent Show.” Settle, then a junior in high school, sang a Whitney Houston song. Kanahele shared how ever since that moment, Settle continued on signing and her talent even took her to Broadway. “Any show she is in, no matter what part she plays, she steals the show. That’s just who she is. She doesn’t mean to. She does it naturally.”
Serena Tuliloa, who wore a pink wig and dressed up as Zendaya’s character Anne Wheeler, went to Kahuku High School with Settle and said they were both part of the BYUH Showcase, a musical group in the 90s. “I was really lucky and fortunate to be around such talented people like her. It’s neat to see someone from our hometown succeed in her dreams with such passion that she has for music and singing. I think it’s so important for our youth and our kids to see that they can succeed and follow the same steps as her.”
Tuliloa described the film as inspiring. “It has such great messages for families and the youth. … I’m excited to be here with family and friends and to recognize Keala and her big success and just celebrate the concept of loving and accepting everyone.
“She brings the character to life, she brings the song to life. I don’t know if anyone could have done it as she did.” In the movie, Settle sings “This is Me,” which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. Tuliloa continued, “Everyone can relate to that song someway, somehow because we all want to belong and be accepted. I love the message and hope that we can care for each other and accept our differences. It’s okay to be different.”
Clint Mariteragi, a member of the community and bishop of the Hale La’a YSA Ward at BYUH, shared, “I do remember her from high school. She is older than I am, and she used to sing all the time.”
In regards to the movie, he added, “I thought the movie was good.” He explained how in today’s society it is very rare to watch a movie in which “we don't really cringe at anything. It was just a really good family-oriented movie.”
He said it was such an exceptional experience to see someone who had grown up in Laie to be in the big screen. “It was a trip. We were all excited. … Congratulations to Keala on a job well done and ... [representing] not only herself, but also her family and community.”
More words of encouragement were shared by Settle’s friends. Shelford said, “We only wish her the best and I know it’s just a start, and it’s just going to continue to grow.” Kanahele shared, “She worked her way up, she worked hard, so we are very proud of her.”
Tuliloa also added, “We are so excited to celebrate her success and her golden globe award on ‘This is me.’” Kalama added, “We love Keala, we are so proud of her and we are hoping that she’ll come and visit us one of these days.”