By Wayne Harada
Two reasons you should not miss the Society of Seven, if the group is performing in your city:
- Lhey Bella.
- Tony Ruivivar
In their mightiest yet return to their one-time Honolulu base, the Society of Seven group, led by Tony Ruivivar, gave two shows Saturday night (Oct. 25) at the Ala Moana Hotel’s Hibiscus Room.
By the end of the evening, two conclusions can be made:
- Bella is the centerpiece of the reconstructed SOS combo, for more than four decades, a fixture on the Waikiki entertainment scene; the Ruivivar-led classic group (and its spin-off SOS LV, for Latest Version), prevailed at the Outrigger Hotel’s Main Showroom as one of the longest-running attraction in Waikiki history. It all came to an end last fall, when the hotel terminated the act and shut down the showroom.
- Ruivivar is the master taskmaker of reinvention and rebuilding, enabling the SOS to evolve and impress despite changes and modifications in the lineup.
So SOS Fever prevailed, albeit briefly, for the hometown crowd as it returned with yet another cycle of growth and change.
With focus on voices instead of multiple costume changes, SOSers still rely on a savvy mix of music and comedy with ample sampling of impressions. But in reality the SOS now is a touring act, since it no longer has a home base here or in Las Vegas, where the SOS has set anchor. The decision to abandon high-overhead show costumes (and invest only in modest changes only when necessary) means a meaner, cleaner brand of showmanship, with equal parts familiarity and freshness. And of course, Ruivivar is the rock of Gibraltar and the skipper of the ongoing voyage of vitality of the group.
In her Hawaii debut as the Philippines’ version of Whitney Houston, Bella immediately emerges as a talent to reckon with; while she does her share of impersonations, like a leggy and bouncy Beyonce in tights and a somewhat caustic Cher beneath a frizzy black wig, she is utilized for her true worth: that soaring, searing and seductive voice that could melt both ice and butter; she brings thrills, as well as heat, as she works those vocal chords. In a game-changing a cappella moment, she is the centerpiece of a voice-only, no-instrument group rendering of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which swings high with triumphant manipulation of notes and phrases by the entire combo. It’s clearly the show’s “wow” moment.
Michael Laygo, also a recent arrival, is the male lead singer now specializing in power rock ballads and a Michael Bolton impression accentuated with the appropriate curly-hair wig. He duets with Bella on “The Prayer,” rendering Italian and English lyrics, and they generate intense energy and emotion.
Co-founder and fellow original member Bert Sagum, of course, grabs his share of comedics, notably on his Little Richard impresh, his flirtation quickie as am aging Las Vegas showgirl and one-third from the catalogue of visual and vocal shticks parodying Diana Ross and the Supremes. Hoku Low, who still has pipes that can rattle the rafters, does the frontman duty as Franki Valli with the Four Seasons; Wayne Wakai, is the other SOS vet, still mingling amid the crowd as bewigged saxophonist Kenny G.
Also aboard: musicians Roy Venturina and Jun Estanislao, who participate in group antics like oldtimers
The current Society of Seven: back row, Jun Estanislao, Wayne Wakai; middle row, Roy Venturina, Hoku Low, Michael Laygo; front row, Tony Ruivivar, Lhey Bella, Bert Sagum.
The show shares popular medleys of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Basil Valdez’ “Lift Up Your Hands,” wringing out both sentimentalism and religious undercurrents, and the flag-waving (minus Ol’ Glory) “Proud To Be an American” and “God Bless America,” with a brief foray into “Hawaii Aloha,” boosts patriotism and salutes the men and women who have, or are still serving, America.
Surely, the crowd support of SOS likely will result in another homecoming visit sometime next year.