Las Vegas Review Journal - November 2002
Society of Seven reminds patrons of old Vegas
Veteran Hawaiian act offers enough variety with impressions and sight gags to
become a Strip staple
by Mike Weatherford

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Sure, you have your impressionists up and down the Strip. But how many are dedicated enough to put on lipstick and a dress?
The fact that Society of Seven is willing to go the Milton Berle route, milking laughs from fully costumed drag spoofs of Cher and Tina Turner, Says plenty about both the veteran Hawaiian act and its audience.
If you're looking for intellectual laughs, keep looking for George Carlin or Pen & Teller.
But if you've been missing the old show band tradition, or heard enough about the good o'l days of Vegas to be curious-then the Aladdin's new residents do the madcap variety revue as well as anyone who is still working.
The seven-man troupe is a 33-year institution at the Outrigger Waikiki, and "cloned" itself there last year so the original ensemble could be set free to conquer the Strip.
I don't know how the new guys come across, but it would seem tough to duplicate the authentic ring of the originals, Co-founders Tony Ruivivar and Bert Sagum first played Las Vegas in 1965. The other five vary in age, but they're are all old enough to make us forgiving of pop culture.

Besides, it's a rare and perhaps risky thing to stage an all-ages variety show in the era of triple-digit cable TV
channels. Society of Seven's "wacky" ad campaign is probably enough to pre-screen those who wouldn't be amused by Gary Bautista standing in profile to sing as Carol Channing, then spinning around to be Louis Armstrong, revealing a bisected costume like that of Batman villain Two-Face.
Some people might even be able to keep a straight face to see Bautista in his Cher get -up, hoisting his short
Sonny (Randy Abellar) clean off his feet.
But sooner or later, everyone has to cave in. A likely breaking point is Roy Guerzo as the "Thriller" video Michael Jackson. It's an easy target but an irresistible sight gag, considering that earlier in the show, Guerzo showed he is the rare Sammy Davis Jr. Impressionist to look more like the legendary showman than to sound like him.
A musical credibility levels the cornball humor. The seven are singers and musicians who play much of the show live. A goof on Kenny G. gives you Wayne Wakai in a silly wig, but he's really playing the soprano saxophone. The troupe also reveals its fondness for Broadway musicals by staging a serious four-song "Phantom of the
Opera" tribute, complete with costumes and masks. (The troupe plans to alternate this with a fully costumed abridgement of "The Lion King" once it gets more settled into the new room and figures out the logistics of sharing the space with a topless revue, "X," set to open this weekend.)
Ruivivar, Bautista and Abellar all take a turn as the masked Phantom, showing strength in numbers. While Bautista is the only one who could pull off a Las Vegas-style singing impressionist act all by
himself, each of the others can do at least one or two solid imitations. A boatload of costumes and wigs help.
The biggest surprise may have been that about half of Sunday's show was different than what the group presented at the Las Vegas Hilton in September 2001. Claiming to change the show a lot is usually just part of the shtick, but these guys seem to mean it.

That raises the hope that SOS, as fans call them, will thin some of the material that can be seen for free in the outside lounges in this show, a long medley of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller oldies for more of their Hawaiian tunes and originals that better showcase their seven-part harmonies.
The new CenterStage showroom might be a little too much old Vegas for most people's tastes. The stage is wide enough to let the troupe stretch out, but low to the ground and lacking head room for backdrops or dramatic lighting.
Because even the most misty-eyed nostalgist doesn't miss the long tables and turn-your-head side seating of the old showrooms, go figure why this 400-seat venue consists entirely of long tables and side seating.
There's a riser in back for the last row of tables, but the rest are flat on the floor. Granted, it's better than nothing for a bankrupt property that had to ask its creditors for permission to build even this modest room. But it's a weak effort compared to the similarly sized but more lavishly retro Suncoast Showroom.
The Society is going to have to work even harder to make this mainland roost feel like a slice of paradise.