A young student speaks Hawaiian while a teacher character scolds him and says "Speak English!"

It's one of the dramatic scenes in a new groundbreaking musical set to open at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Kennedy Theater this Friday.

The play tells the history of Hawaii in the native Hawaiian language from the perspective of four young Hawaiians on a journey of self discovery and cultural awakening.

UH Hawaiian Theatre Program Director Tammy Hailiopua Baker says she wrote the play "Au'a 'Ia: Holding On" last fall after years of research. The production will feature more than 50 actors and musicians and runs through October 6.

"It's really about empowerment of Hawaiian identity, empowerment of our consciousness as kanaka maoli," she said.

Actor and graduate student Kaipulaumakaniolono says the show reflects many experiences of today's youth. 

"We're trying to figure out what has been untaught in the history of settler colonialism that persists here in Hawaii and we're trying to redig in and reaffirm ourselves in this aina," he said.

The production comes at a tense time for the campus and the state, where there are divisions over the Thirty Meter Telescope project on Mauna Kea and backlash against a UH physics professor's negative comments about Kamehameha Schools.

"There is definite political strife happening on this campus and in a theater medium, we have the opportunity to tell stories we otherwise couldn't tell," said graduate student Keola Simpson, the production's assistant director.

"Au'a 'Ia: Holding On" will be performed in the native Hawaiian language, but gradually incorporate English as the story addresses colonialism.

In much the same way the Hamilton musical broke stereotypes about how history is presented on stage, UH Hawaiian Theatre is leading the charge to challenge the mainstream, spark conversations and perhaps redefine history.

For tickets, visit the theatre box office, go online at etickethawaii.com or call (808) 944-2697.