By Wayne Harada
The Lani Misalucha show, ensconced in the Magic of Polynesia Showroom at the Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel, is a work in progress. It aspires to be one of Waikiki’s new mainstream attractions in a diminishing and dissolving Waikiki species: the showroom spectacle.
With Las Vegas-style wattage, Misalucha moves and grooves with a pastiche of tunes and a parade of costume changes befitting a showroom queen. As a former Best Female Singer in the gambling capital, she does it all here — pop, opera, rock, impersonations — and is the focus of a high-energy, high-octane, high-stakes effort.
Not everything works. Yet.
I’ve seen the show twice; once in December, once in January. She and the show are on the right track, with family-friendly, visitor-targeted elements. At a recent Saturday night performance, the packed house included perhaps 75 per cent locals — so Misalucha could evolve as the queen of Waikiki amid a landscape more inclined to feature male headliners or Polynesian-luau extravaganza.
It’s not an easy journey, however.
With two careers on the line — show headliner Misalucha’s and producer Roy Tokujo’s — the show is one to watch. It has immense potential, but for now lacks the wow factor that might place Misalucha in the winner’s circle and Tokujo back at the reins of a crowd-pleasing blockbuster. It boils down to material: as Misalucha settles into her year-long run, she ought to tweak her songs and re-examine her songbook.
The Filipina singer, who previously co-starred with the classic Society of Seven here and in Las Vegas, is a superstar diva in her native Philippines. Tokujo is a veteran show producers, whose credits in the Islands include the original “Magic of Polynesia” show in Waikiki as well as the “Ulalena” success in Lahaina. Despite Tokujo’s short-lived “Waikiki Nei” extravaganza at the Level 4 showroom at the Royal Hawaiian Center across the street, Misalucha’s production could be his rebound vehicle and her star-turning endeavor.
Of course, it takes time, determination, artistic zeal ... and tour groups. For the visitor population, Misaluna has the foundation support of Roberts Hawaii, the tour company, which also is producer of John Hirokawa’s “Magic of Polynesia” show that precedes Misalucha’s newbie in the same 700-seat showroom.
Hers, however, is not a dinner event, so the producers are in the midst of organizing a Hawaiian luau-type show on a deck outside the Jimmy Buffett restaurant on the hotel’s second floor, one below the showroom, which logically could feed perhaps 200 spectators prior to Misalucha’s show. It’s all coming sometime this spring, part of a piggybacking process to create traffic for larger headcounts in the showroom.
With two back up singers and a four-member band which sounds much larger, Misalucha is a tireless workhorse who has shelved her general shyness offstage and is blossoming into a luminous bulb in the Waikiki nightlife spectrum.
A true chameleon, Misalucha soars from operatic “Con Te Partico” to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with nary a bat of the eyelash; she magnifies lessons learned, during her Las Vegas tenure with Tony Ruivivar and the SOS, traipsing through vividly funny impersonations of Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Tina Turner and Diana Ross; with her two backup singers, Star Kalahiki and Christine Souza, she bounces through a medley of ABBA tunes that is more “Mamma Mia” than the Swedish originals; and she puts an indelible personal imprint of Whitney Houston’s biggie, “I Will Always Love You.”
Of course, the staging is showroom-smart, with draped curtains and sound-and-light modifications that make her costume changes chic and appropriate for a mainstage diva. And her four-member band — leader Robert Shinoda on guitar, Mark Tanouye on bass, Garin Poliahu on drums and Michael Grande on keyboards — is integral in her transformation from rocker to impressionist to balladeer.
Yes, there are ballads, including the Dusty Springfield dust-off “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” but there are more rock-pop entities, like a hana-hou medley of disco and Donna Summer that leave you breathless.
I wish that Misalucha would update and rethink her repertoire; why not a prevailing pop fave like Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”? Or a simple and shrewd “quiet moment” number, sung with a simple spotlight perhaps from a stool, to demonstrate the prowess and power that lurk in her soul? And, because she is performing for a mixed local and visitor crowd in Hawaii, some suitable Island song in the lineup to accentuate and punctuate her intention of being One of Us?
Budget restrictions aside, it also would be great if she had a male co-star or guest, because then there would be opportunity for interplay with duets, expanding her appeal and providing a more valid reason for her to change clothes.
During one of Misalucha’s exits to change gowns, Kalahiki and Souza leave the stage vacant (OK, the band is there) to kibitz with the audience and sing in the aisles — a plus for rapport, but a negative for production logic. A stage should never be bare in the course of a show.
When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
Where: Magic of Polynesia Showroom, Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel
Cost: $55, $65, $99 (includes Jimmy Buffett dinner before show; a luau component is the works); child and kamaaina rates available
Information/reservations: 954-8652, 971-4321, www.laniinwaikiki.com, www.robertshawaii.com