SOS redux: Ruivivar's textbook on reinvention
In his latest reincarnation of his ever-evolving Society of Seven group, Tony Ruivivar proves once again that he is a master with the Midas touch — of reinventing, redefining and remounting this classic Waikiki act.
The group just launched a five-week visit at its old stomping grounds, the Outrigger Waikiki’s Main Showroom, after a nine-year absence.
This is a textbook lesson on reimagining and refining a veteran act, amid
logistics that are somewhat complicated. The hotel no longer operates the club, so the SOS is four-walling the room; in garnering the limelight, the SOS had to “bump” its spin-off Society of Seven LV (Latest Version) act to hiatus status; and there were further challenges — like deciding whether to add a pre-show dinner option (nixed), scheduling two acts back to back (also nixed), the two bands alternating nights (a maybe).
The classic SOS, as it is now billed, bowed at the Outrigger 41 years ago and since has undergone a round of membership changes in remountings far too many to count, for a variety of reasons including death and the usual swinging door departures— and Ruivivar has been the resilient and resourceful thread that has kept this lei of talent fresh, fragrant and family-friendly.
Watching original co-founder Bert Sagum, and now-veteran SOSers Hoku Low and Wayne Wakai weave their magic with newbies Layton “Elika” Santos, Roy Venturina and Vince Mendoza, one can see why a roster tweaking brings out the best of Ruivivar.
He has an ear for talent — any local with a desire to work Waikiki and who can past the mustard to earn a slot will learn that the SOS is like a theatrical machine, with roots in Las Vegas-style comedy and Broadway music. The usual inspiration is all about celebrity — iconic personalities impersonated in brief but familiar turns.
Indeed, impersonations have been an SOS hallmark for the past four decades, and each member of the group has to learn, then share, an element of a star from the past or the current pop charts.
Surely, there’s always an Elvis, though no Michael Jackson now, and you know who’s the hot chick when a Beyonce replaces Britney in the star parade.
A few years ago, Ruivivar finally realized that the presence of a woman trouper would enhance the marquee and provided missing glamor, so the likes of Lani Misalucha, a Filipino songbird still working in Las Vegas, was added. Then Jasmine Trias, Hawaii’s “American Idol” finalist. The latest is Arschiel, is a 15-year-old “find” from Farrington High School, who does Beyonce (and Diana Ross in a Supreme spoof) more as a tribute than an impersonation. No matter.
Of course, SOS guys have played women in drag over time — Cher comes to mind, for example — comic effect. They still do — particularly Sagum, who has the knack to strut and sashay across the stage in chiffon or feathers or sequins.
What’s remarkable, if you’ve been following this act over the decades, is how an old trick can still work (like the cha-cha nonsense, with sheets of paper and a prance to “Tea for Two”) and how traditional pop, country, opera and soul sensations are recycled with savvy and finesse. Again, credit Ruivivar for assembling the contagious rock ballads of Journey alongside an arias of Luciano Pavarotti (Santos) and the power ballads of Celine Dion (Arshiel).
The Great White spotlight includes a segment from “Hairspray,” launched while the SOS were performing in Las Vegas, with revival snippets from “The King and I,” “Dreamgirls,” “Man of La Mancha” and “Jekyll and Hyde.” And a cheerful and charming salute to “Jersey Boys,” with Low demonstrating his Frankie Valli-like highs, is sandwiched in a Las Vegas medley of iconic troupers including Little Richard (Sagum), Kenny G (Wakai), Stevie Wonder (Mendoza).
Another SOS trademark is costumes — minimal this time, but you gotta see ‘em to believe ‘em.
SOCIETY OF SEVEN
8:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
Main Showroom, Outrigger Waikiki Hotel
$45 general, $29.50 kamaaina