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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.