They almost waited too long to figure this out.
The Society of Seven is a tourist institution in Hawaii, but has battled for years to maintain a high profile on the Strip.
Martin Nievera, the son of one of the Society’s original singers, likewise had tough luck trying to transfer his momentum to Las Vegas. He’s "The Concert King" of the Philippines, and at 46, can still pack arenas there. But it has been hard to push beyond that base to a wider audience, and formal singers not named Groban or Buble aren’t a hot commodity these days.
So, perhaps inevitably, these two have joined forces. Something Nievera has waited his whole life to do, he tells the audience. But guess what? The show closes at the Flamingo on April 13. Magician Nathan Burton takes over the afternoon berth in the showroom. SOS will go on tour and try to find a new home on the Strip in September.
That still gives them six weeks to demonstrate the potential of their combined force to future casino hosts. The show is instantly stronger, even though it’s a bit tentative and a little like a shotgun wedding.
Nievera restores the stellar male voice the Society has been missing since the death of longtime member Gary Bautista in early 2006. The showy singing has been left up to female star Lani Misalucha, but nothing quite replaced her duets with Bautista.
When Misalucha and Nievera serve up the inevitable rendition of "The Prayer," or "Somewhere" from "West Side Story," there’s no better singing in any ongoing show on the Strip.
Sure, a few of us would like to see if Misalucha could handle more nuanced vocals, maybe something jazzy to balance the full-throttle dynamics. But business is business, and the real mystery is why a show so perfectly attuned to "American Idol" and Groban’s song catalog would meet any resistance on the Strip. Perhaps many people, like a certain woman I live with, look at the ads and mistakenly assume the group does a Hawaiian-style show with grass skirts and island music.
Instead, the SOS formula has always been to balance Broadway singing with the ’60s show-band tradition of costumed impressions and cross-dressing. Nievera is willing to dive in, offering what may well be the world’s first comic spoof of Groban and gamely putting on the dress to be one of the Supremes to Misalucha’s Diana Ross.
For better or worse, the impressions and spoofs all fall in the first 45 minutes, ranging from co-founder Bert Sagum as Little Richard to Misalucha as Celine Dion, Beyoncé and Britney Spears (a bit that really should go on hold until the real Brit seems less precarious).
Then the show turns the corner, and it’s basically all serious from that point on. A better blend would avoid Excessive Wig Syndrome followed by sudden withdrawal, something all TV doctors caution against.
Nievera hit the ground running this time. But if he and the Society are still a packaged deal in September, it will be time to bring in an outside director. Call it "Keeping up with the Scintas," the only other full-time attempt (unless you count Danny Gans) to court customers from the pre-Pure era of Vegas.
The Scintas were wise to sit down with new producers and dissect every element of their Las Vegas Hilton act, though the changes ended up being more subtle than drastic. Likewise, it’s time for the Society to back up and rid the show of accumulated tics, such as co-founder Tony Ruivivar repeatedly thanking the audience for coming, which leads to False Finale Syndrome. (He’s covering for quick changes backstage, but why not talk about the history of the group or something?)
And while it’s cool that Nievera follows in his father’s footsteps by doing an impression or two, the rest of the group could follow the lead of his pop hits medley and say, "We’re good in our own right too."
Moments such as the group’s offering a cappella backing to Misalucha’s version of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" give you high hopes for what they could come back with in September if they think this thing through.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0288.REVIEW what: Society of Seven with Lani Misalucha and Martin Nievera when: 3 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays where: Showroom at Flamingo Las Vegas, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. South tickets: $54.95 (733-3333) grade: B