Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, March 12, 1999

Courtesy of SOS
Since 1994 the SOS has been from top left,
clockwise, Bert Sagum, Gary Bautista, Roy Guerzo,
Hoku Low, Tony Ruivivar, Wayne Wakai and Randy Abellar.

Society of Seven

The Waikiki act is 30 years old
and can still be trusted for fun

John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


A small galaxy of entertainers has played Waikiki in the last 30 years. Relatively few made a lasting impact or maintained even moderate star status for long. Only one act has headlined the same major Waikiki showroom for 30 years straight. The Society of Seven celebrates its 30th anniversary at the Outrigger Main Showroom on Tuesday. The SOS' 30th Anniversary show opens to the public the following night.

"We'd been doing a lot of road trips so when we opened (in 1969) we thought it would be a long gig if we stayed at least six months, so we are thrilled," SOS leader Tony Ruivivar says.

"We're ready for another thirty years!" Bert Sagum adds quickly.

Courtesy of SOS
Bert Sagum, left, and Danny Ruivivar in 1969.

Ruivivar and Sagum are the two original members of the group that opened at the Outrigger in 1969. They'd come out of Hong Kong as the Fabulous Echoes several years previously and passed through Hawaii on the way to Las Vegas, the Ed Sullivan Show, and guest spots on the other national television musical variety shows of the era. The Fabulous Echoes were popular in Hawaii as well when they became the Society Of Seven shortly before opening at the Outrigger. (Ruivivar says they thought the older name sounded more like a rock band than a show group).

The line-up in 1969 was Ruivivar, Sagum, Don Gay, Terry Lucido, Roberto Nievera, Stan Robertson, and Danny Ruivivar. Two of the original 1969 SOS -- Terry Lucido and Danny Ruivivar -- died as members. Gay, Nievera and Robertson resigned to pursue other opportunities. Three of the most memorable later SOS members were the multitalented "Little Albert" Maligmat; master impressionist Jun Polistico; and Manila Machine alumnus Eddie Ramirez, whose specialties included playing two horns simultaneously. Other former members are Tony Davich, Mitch Morala, Billy Rivera, Alfredo Romero, Tony Anthony Lee Smith, and Bob Wilson.

Ruivivar says one secret to the group's longevity is "hard work and enjoying what you're doing." He adds it's also important to selectively incorporate new ideas without losing the original essence of the act. Advances in synthesizers, sequencers, sound gear and lighting allow the SOS to do things that weren't possible in 1969. Costumes and staging have also become more ambitious and elaborate as the group presents miniaturized productions of modern Broadway blockbusters like "Starlight Express," "Les Miz," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Miss Saigon." The SOS has been Hawaii's window on Broadway for years, and Ruivivar says Broadway hits are perfect for the SOS.

Courtesy of SOS
The SOS ham it up for in a poster promoting
their show at the Waikiki Outrigger.

"We are a show and in a show you need strong tunes. The showstopper songs are always from Broadway."

Last year's show was their biggest and most elaborate ever -- at least until next Tuesday. It included full-costumed miniature versions of "Jekyll & Hyde" and "Lion King" that included props, puppets, backdrops and sets. The group now does two different shows so fans can see popular segments from previous productions.

"Every time we stop doing 'Phantom' people ask for it and we have to put it back," Ruivivar explains.

"We all grew up with those big Broadway hits, but I also think the demographic appeal of a Broadway hit is larger and lasts longer. Ask people what the number one song is this week and a lot of people don't know. By the time you add it to the show it's no longer number one, and a lot of people that come in to see the show probably aren't familiar with it anyway."

Sagum has been the irrepressible spirit of the group for years. He has no idea how many zany costume bits he's done over the years, but says costumes have a way of taking over the person who wears them.

Courtesy of SOS
Members of the original group from 1969, Terry
Lucindo, left, Tony Ruivivar, Stan Robertson, Robert
Nievera, Danny Ruivivar, Bert Sagum and Don Gray.

"When we first got Jun Polistico he was the Frank Sinatra of the Philippines, he didn't want to do anything (crazy), but after watching us (do things) he starting experimenting. When we first got Wayne Wakai he was so quiet, now we can't stop him! He's more crazy than me now."

"Role playing changes people," Ruivivar adds. "You don't expect to see Hoku Low as 'Master of the House' or Roy doing Tina Turner. Gary is so into the Jekyll and Hyde thing that it really gets to him sometimes. Put on a costume and it changes people. It's part of the fun of performing."

"You gotta love what you're doing to last long and we do. Making people happy is the most fantastic feeling," Sagum sums up.

So does that mean Sagum misses the days when the SOS did a third 1 a.m. late show on weekends?

"You gotta be kidding!"

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