By Wayne Harada
An eight-month run of the Lani Misalucha Show at the Magic of Polynesia showroom comes to an end this Saturday (Sept. 1).
This, amid rumors of its impending closure and a Waikiki nightlife climate that has not reached expected attendance expectations.
This does not bode well for nightlife in Waikiki, where showrooms are few and attractions are dimming. The “star” marquee era — think Don Ho — is gone with his death.
And with Misalucha leaving the nighttime mainstream, there will be one less place to go and be entertained.
“This is a very tough decision for us,” said Percy Higashi, president and chief operating officer for Roberts Hawaii, the producer of the Misalucha show. The intent was to expose her stellar talent in a second-show slot of the Magic of Polynesia showroom at the Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel.
“Lani is a phenomenal singer and entertainer, and we’ve received countless comments from guests who absolutely loved her show,” Higashi said in a press release. “Unfortunately, our experience is in line with what HTA (the Hawaii Tourism Authority) has been telling us, that while visitor counts may be rising, many travelers to Hawaii remain very budget-conscious and are holding back on their spending.”
Misalucha, a superstar in the Philippines who previously earned awards in the Las Vegas hemisphere while featured with the Hawaii-based Society of Seven, led by Tony Ruivivar. Her vocal prowess —rock to opera, pop to Broadway, impressions of show biz divas — made her a perfect fit for the SOS. But she went solo and eventually was wooed by Roberts Hawaii, a tour and transportation company, to headline her own Lani Misalucha Show that was launched last December and rebooted with a “Return to Paradise” billing about a month ago to lure visitors with a more tropical pitch.
While initial numbers were encouraging, attendance has been sluggish in recent months.
“Hawaii has become like my second home, and will always have a special place in my heart,” said Misalucha in a statement. “I’d like to thank Roberts Hawaii and all the wonderful people of Hawaii for their support.”
Because the Las Vegas-style showroom still has a resident star in magician John Hirokawa, it will continue to operate seven nights a week in the early hours.
The lights-off in the after-show hours means one less performance venue along the Kalakaua Avenue strip.
You recall, all major hotels had showrooms in the heyday of mainstream Waikiki entertainment in the 1970s and ’80s. Hyatt shut down its showroom in favor of leased commercial space; Hilton eliminated its famous Dome to built a more profitable high rise, and removed the Tapa Room for the same reason; the Royal Hawaiian relinquished the entertainment spotlight in its Monarch Room, making higher profits with special events like weddings, though tried mid-week special shows that failed to attract locals to sustain the experiment; the Moana removed Polynesian entertainment in its storied beachfront area beneath the banyan tree, for cocktail ambience for veranda patrons in recent decades; the Polynesian Palace on Lewers gave way for a hotel remake and the ultimate launch of Waikiki Beach Walk.
And you remember Don Ho; he was the big-name headliner at Duke Kahanamoku’s, now only a memory, unless you count his oversized statue on Waikiki Beach. Ho was able to shuttle from one showroom to another — the Hilton Dome, the Polynesian Palace, that second-level downsized club at the Beachcomber, which now is leased space for Jimmy Buffett’s franchise.
And the Outrigger, which still has a fading showroom with a bright history, is struggling to nail a deal with new owner prospects to keep the doors open. Otherwise, another showroom will bite the dust.
The other key showrooms in Waikiki are the Ainahau at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, where a Tihati Polynesian production has been in residency for decades; and the rooftop venue above the parking structure, where the Hilton produces a Tihati-created spectacular. A “showroom” that isn’t is that Monday-only high-end but exquisite Hawaiian show, on the green lawn outside the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian, still another show with the Tihati stamp.
Oh, yes; the Royal Hawaiian Showroom, previously Level 4 and a showcase for a short-lived "Hawaii Nei" show, is supposed to be the anchor showroom at the Royal Hawaiian Center. It now is home to the "Legends" impersonation revue, which, like Misalucha's show, opened last December. "Legends" also is fighting for its share of the visitor/local pie, but it's also been a struggle; the big numbers have been somewhat elusive.
Misalucha’s numbers were inadequate because the show failed to generate visitor tour groups, that apparently wanted more Polynesian elements; hence, the “Return to Paradise” effort.
All is not lost for Misalucha, who is said to be seeking and getting some local and international bookings. But a full-time opportunity is gone.
Rumors persist that staff from one Waikiki hotel has been scrutinizing her show for possible two- or three-night bookings to keep her anchored in Waikiki.
“We considered a slew of other alternatives, but given its substantial production expense (singers, dancers, musicians), continuing the show was not a healthy option,” said Higashi.