Show and Tell Hawai'i

SOS: 40 years of change, medleys, memories

May 1st, 2009

What is the Society of Seven — now marking its 40th anniversary in Waikiki — best known for?
Here’s a pop quiz:
A: Broadway medleys, complete with costumed glory.
B. Impressions of show biz legends, past and current.
C. A change in membership, every few years.
D. Longest same-room run in Waikiki.
E. All of the above.
If you answered E, you’re spot-on right.
Indeed, the SOS’ Fabulous 40 celebration — under way this month — is all about change, vision, reinvention, challenges in the savvy shows under the stewardship of group co-founder Tony Ruivivar.
Musical montages remain a staple; the SOS still make a good impression; and members come and go often as the tides shift. Still happening, after four decades, at the Outrigger Waikiki’s Main Showroom.
Ruivivar and co-founder Bert Sagum, the only two originals remaining in the “classic” group, will bring 20-year members Wayne Wakai and Hoku Low, along with newcomers Vince Mendoza and Mike Laygo, to the Outrigger stage for a guest appearance next Wednesday and Thursday. Confusingly, this orig group now is based in Las Vegas, prepping to launch a new show at the Stratosphere’s Theatre for the Stars, in a 3 p.m. slot, this month.
Meanwhile, the spin-off group — SOS Las Vegas, which was to be ensconced in the gambling capital but is in residency at the Outrigger — will share the stage with their mentors, marking the first time both acts will co-star. The bulk of the show will be shouldered by SOS LV, led by Richard Natto; but the gig introduce to Honolulans new lead singer Laygo, who replaced Mike Escueta, who was Gary Bautista’s successor; Bautista died Jan. 30 2006.
Also new: Mendoza, ex-member of the Aura ‘ohana, who spells Randy Abellar. The fresh keyboarder is Roy Venturina, a musician from Los Angeles, who is in the midst of relocating to Vegas (so won’t be here); he replaces Roy Guerzo, who bowed out of the group last year.
For residents, the two-night special is a bargain to see the SOS this month — a special kama‘aina package includes the show with a burger and soft drink at Jimmy Buffett’s at the Beachcomber across the street at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel (see box).
I’ve covered the SOS since its origins, reviewed and interviewed them and lived through their accidents, some deaths, a few emotional departures and some happy arrivals.
I’ve seen them in Los Angeles and in Las Vegas and count these memories — and benchmarks — so have witnessed its legendary craftsmanship:
• Ruivivar has been resilient, filling in the pukas after untimely deaths (his brother Danny Ruivivar, original member Terry Lucido), lassoing and shaping new vocal magicians (Roberto Nievera, Gary Bautista) following departures, molding new voices (Albert Maligmat).
• The group has raised the bar in Waikiki showmanship with Broadway lore with costumed spectacles of “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables,” “The Lion King,” “Grease,” “A Chorus Line” and “West Side Story” — long before touring companies headed this way.
• In better economic times, the SOS mounted two new shows a year and gave three shows a night.
• When it took jaunts to the Mainland, local enjoyed prime showroom experience in its absence. Remember shows by The Ali‘is, The Krush, the Kim Sisters, Melveen Leed and Loyal Garner, Carole Kai, Andy Bumatai, Rap Replinger, Marlene Sai, Tommy Sands, John Rowles, Francis Ruivivar and Martin Nievera? The SOS’ sizzling appeal led to spill-out “lounge” shows in the lobby, with folks like The Reycards and Poncie Ponce.


The original SOS will join the spin-off SOS LV at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday
Outrigger Waikiki Main Showroom
8:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays
Main Showroom, Outrigger Waikiki Hotel
Kamaaina special, now through May 30: $29.95, local ID required; includes a burger meal with fries and soft drink, plus four-hour parking validation, at Jimmy Buffett’s at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel, plus a chance to win a four-night roundtrip visit to Las Vegas to see the SOS at the Stratosphere


Pre-SOS era
1966 — Fabulous Echoes open at Betty Riley’s Copacabana. Features Tony Ruivivar, Bert Sagum, Stan Robertson, Terry Lucido, Danny Ruivivar and Cliff Foenander
1968 — Fabulous Echoes open at Duke Kahanamoku’s, changes name to Society of Seven.
SOS origins
1969 — Society of Seven opens at Outrigger with new singer Roberto Nievera.
1970 — SOS signs first of 39 consecutive one-year contracts, records live-at-the-Outrigger “SOS Fever” LP that yields two hits, “Walk Away” and “This Is My Life.”
1971 — Danny Ruivivar, Tony’s brother, collapses on stage; later dies. Bob Wilson of Ox (later, Seawind) joins group on drums.
1972 — “Little Albert” Maligmat, a bass player, learns drums to join SOS to replace Wilson.
1973 — Robertson leaves, replaced by Alfredo Romero; “99.8” hit released.
1976 — Nievera and Maligmat depart; crooner Jun Polistico and drummer Billy Rivera step in.
1977 — Romero exits, replaced by Hoku Low.
1980 — Don Gay leaves, Tony Smith enters.
1981 — Eddie Ramirez joins, Smith departers; Rivera also exits, Maligmat rejoins.
1982 —Pianist Terry Lucido suffers heart attack, subbed by Mitch Morala; for a while SOS has eight members, but Lucido later dies.
1983 — Polistico decides to leave on New Year’s Eve; Gary Bautista joins.
1984 — Bautista’s many impressions become an instant hit.
1985 — The SOS goes symphonic, joining the Honolulu Symphony in the first of many guest appearances.
1986 — “A Chorus Line,” complete with “One” choreography, is the first of many mini-Broadway showstoppers to follow.
1988 — SOS jumps the gun with an early 20th anniversary gala.
1989 — Leader Ruivivar suffers a neck injury in a swimming accident; for the first time, the show is canceled for one night; Ramirez leaves, Wayne Wakai arrives.
1990 — SOS chairs the Visitor Industry Charity Walk, one of many charitable endeavors.
1991 — The Outrigger Main Showroom closes for four months for renovations, flipping the stage location.
1992 — Morala exits, Roy Guerzo enters; Maligmat leaves, Tony Davich joins.
1994 — Davich leaves, Randy Abellar enters. “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast” are unveiled.
1999 — 30th anniversary show launched.
2001 — Spin-off group Society of Seven Las Vegas formed, first appearing at the Las Vegas Hilton, while the “classic” SOS plays Waikiki.
2002 — SOS plays Mainland and overseas dates, SOS LV holds down the fort.
2005 — “Hawaii Stars” tapes at the showroom, SOS LV involved as judges and house band.
2006 — Bautista dies in Los Angeles.
2007 — Lani Misalucha, Filipino songstress, joins SOS in Vegas.
2008 — Jasmine Trias, “American Idol” finalist, debuts with SOS LV, establishing the Outrigger as her home base; Misalucha exits.
2009 — 40th anniversary show marks the first time that both the classic and LV groups share the Waikiki stage.

Share your SOS memories here — favorite show medley, favorite crooner, favorite impressions?

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