Local impersonators keep the genre hot, bringing Elvis, Elton and more to life in concert
CELEBRITY impersonators have been part of the Waikiki scene since Jack Cione began presenting "Elvis" at Le Boom Boom (formerly Duke Kahanamoku's) in the late 1970s. Cione eventually took the concept to its nadir with a 3-for-1 Elvis show that included a guy who performed with a paper bag over his head.
Jonathan Von Brana brought a Vegas-caliber Elvis act to Hawaii in the late '80s and John Stuart took the concept to its zenith with "Legends in Concert" at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in the 1990s.
'STARS IN CONCERT HAWAII'
On stage: 6 and 9 p.m. nightly except Saturday. Dinner show seatings at 4:30 and 7:45 p.m.
Place: New Lau Yee Chai Showroom and Restaurant, Waikiki Shopping Plaza
Tickets: $45; $30 children. Dinner show is $75 to $99.
"Legends" was a big-budget Vegas show transplanted to Waikiki, with a multilevel stage, smoke, lasers, computer-controlled lighting, and huge video screens that showed montages of the show in progress and clips of the real-life stars.
Von Brana as Elvis became the franchise talent of "Legends," joining other headliners playing Michael Jackson, Madonna and Marilyn Monroe.
When "Legends" closed, Von Brana and some of Hawaii's homegrown impersonators kept the genre alive in various venues. The latest is "Stars in Concert Hawaii," starring Von Brana as Elvis, on the fifth floor of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza.
The room is the old Lau Yee Chai Restaurant -- made over as the New Lau Yee Chai Showroom and Restaurant with the addition of a stage, lights, sound system and obligatory video screens. Imagine Elvis and his co-stars performing in a Chinese supper club.
Von Brana is as engaging as ever. He appears first as "young Elvis," doing a hodgepodge of pre-Army and movie hits, then returns as "Vegas Elvis" to close the show with post-1968 material. Von Brana has also revived his popular "Love Me Tender" segment, where "Vegas Elvis" goes into the audience with souvenir scarves for several ladies.
He snarls more while singing Elvis' early hits than Elvis ever did, but otherwise does an outstanding job as headliner.
Mitch Adams is a delightful surprise as Elton John. He's got the look, the attitude and the familiar moves down to the point where it's easy to pretend for a moment or two that Sir Elton is jamming with the band.
A quick costume change brings him back for a high-energy, five-minute rendition of "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" that's sweetened with a quick melodic reference to "Take Me to the Pilot." It quickly becomes a singalong.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Danita Asberry appears as Tina Turner, right, and also sings as Whitney Houston. Other singers include Carmen Romano and Eric Martin as the Blues Brothers. CLICK FOR LARGE
Carmen Romano and Eric Martin were excellent as the Blues Brothers on opening night, and the current duo -- Chris Dahl (Jake) and Geoff Dahl (Elwood) -- does a superb job with the familiar characterizations and choreography, as well. The original Blues Brothers act was a parody that made an oblique statement on the exploitation of African-American artists. The Dahls are great fun throughout their fast-moving 20-minute show and leave the audience wanting more.
Danita Asberry appears as Tina Turner and Whitney Houston. She doesn't sound particularly like Turner, or capture the look and sound of Houston with the totality achieved by the late Alisa Randolph for "Legends" in the '90s, but earns applause as both characters.
The five-piece band is a significant asset in making "Stars" more than a local "tracks show." Allowing Von Brana to do more of Elvis's hapa-haole repertoire would give the show a distinct Hawaii vibe and set it apart from the big-scale impersonator shows elsewhere.
On a personal note: Anyone seeking value should go for cocktails only. I've been told that the food has improved, but the dinner served on opening night could be equated to a mediocre plate lunch.