She’s one of the guys

Lani Misalucha’s the first woman
in the Society of Seven club

Just when it seems like we've seen it all from the Society of Seven over the past 35-plus years, Tony Ruivivar comes up with something new. This weekend, the SOS takes the stage at downtown's Hawaii Theatre with a "real girl" in the lineup, Lani Misalucha.

In Concert

Featuring the Society of Seven and Lani Misalucha

Where: Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $35 and $45, with a $5 discount for students, seniors, military and groups of 20 or more

Info: 528-0506 or www.hawaiitheatre.com

And no, Ruivivar says, she's not just a "special guest" who'll come out for a few songs somewhere during the show.

"She's totally integrated into what we do," he explained during a lunch last Wednesday at the showband's regular environs, the Outrigger Waikiki Main Showroom. Ruivivar -- who's been leader of the SOS dating back to their earliest days in Hong Kong as the Fabulous Echoes in the early '60s -- had flown back from Las Vegas with Misalucha and keyboardist Roy Guerzo to give some of the key industry people in town a chance to meet Misalucha before this weekend's shows. (The trio left the following morning to meet the rest of the group for concerts in Southern California).

"We've been in Las Vegas for a while, and we wanted to come back to show off Lani," Ruivivar said.

"It's sort of like the Society of Seven reinventing itself. With Lani's phenomenal talent, there's a certain chemistry between her and us. It just brought the show to a different level, and we want to show ... what kind of a show we have, and really introduce Lani to the people of Hawaii.

"The thing about Lani, too, is that she loves performing. She does 13 (costume) changes in the show, and the energy level is always there, is always up. She does a Celine Dion that I think is better than Celine Dion -- and I've seen Celine Dion -- and she does Barbra Streisand. She switches from opera to rhythm-and-blues and soul and some Broadway. She does everything, which is perfect for what the Society of Seven does.

"We do a medley of 'God Bless The U.S.A.' and 'God Bless America,' and she sings (the latter). Celine Dion usually changes keys twice in the song and goes up there, and I said, 'Lani, do it three times,' and she's doing it every night with ease. It's not an easy thing to do, but I knew she could do it better than Celine Dion.

"People say, 'Why do you make Lani do that?' I will not give Lani anything that I don't think she can do. I have complete faith that she can do it. Otherwise, I wouldn't do it."


THIS WEEKEND'S engagement for the Society of Seven -- just to clarify, this is the ORIGINAL SOS coming home from Vegas -- not Ruivivar's protˇgˇs, the Society of Seven Las Vegas, who have been the headliners at the Outrigger hotel ever since Ruivivar moved the original group to Sin City in 2001.

Longtime fans will be happy to know that the showband's roster has remained intact in the interim. The last personnel change was over 10 years ago, and Randy Abellar is still considered "the new guy" in a lineup also featuring Ruivivar, Guerzo, co-founder Bert Sagum, Hoku Low, Gary Bautista and Wayne Wakai. (Low has been the SOS bassist since 1977, and Bautista replaced Jun Polistico in 1983).

One recurring shtick in SOS shows over the years has been the "boys will be girls" segment that many local fans seem to can't get enough of -- men clowning around in drag and doing comic impressions of celebrities like Tina Turner, Dolly Parton and Beyoncˇ.

Now, having Misalucha in the show adds another dimension to the imitations.

"In the past, every time we wanted to do a female performer, we had to have one of the guys dress up. Gary is more flamboyant, more out there. He'll go the extra yard with lipstick and everything, and Bert is more just 'do it and get out of it.' But this time, we have a real girl, who's not only a real girl, but who can sing."

Ruivivar says that Misalucha is also a quick study when a new character is needed.

"When she arrived during rehearsals, we asked if she'd seen Gladys Knight, and she went to see Gladys Knight (at the Flamingo), and the next day in rehearsal she did Gladys Knight."

MISALUCHA SAYS that her association with the guys began the night she was in the audience and was called up to do the standard guest celebrity number -- one song and off. The crowd that night, however, called for a second song, and then a third.

"It was my first time to meet them, although I had heard about them when I was younger. ... It was just so wonderful that the people thought we had been together for some time already and it went so well. ... There was an instant chemistry between us and so it started there."

Misalucha's involvement with the SOS required her to put her career in the Philippines on hold and move to Vegas with her husband and two children. The couple had considered "migrating to Canada" before her career in the Philippines had taken off, but she acknowledges that it was a big step to do it now.

"I was doing so many things in the Philippines ... so the thought of migrating was shelved until this came up. Of course, if there are some difficulties (there), you can get a housemaid or a nanny so easily or call a relative to come over to your house and help. ... It may be a big decision on my part to leave all those comforts, and all those things you would say come with stardom in the Philippines, but I this is something new for me, performing every day and performing with these boys who have been in the industry for such a long time. I've been learning so many things from them. It's such a great opportunity for me to be performing with them."

Misalucha adds that some of her friends from the Philippines have been "shocked" to see her performing with SOS in Vegas. For instance, she says, back home, she performed while wearing glamorous gowns, and did not dance or do anything involving choreography.

But that was then, and this is now.

"They really pushed me to do something that is not really (the old) Lani. When some of my friends ... came over (from the Philippines) to see me, they were astounded at what they saw -- I'm wearing shorts, wearing bra, and doing costume changes right there in front of the people on stage.

"After the show, they said, 'Come on, honey, you weren't doing that in the Philippines!' It amazes me, really, that somehow I found a part of myself (I didn't know I had) and can really do it."

"I knew when we were rehearsing," Ruvivar said, "that it was going to be very good, but the resulting effect is something I never imagined. The Society of Seven always give it 150 percent, and if we don't get a standing ovation, we question the show. ... But with Lani, we'll get standing ovations in the middle of the show and all over the place, because when she comes out, she just hits them with something completely different that blows them away.

"It seems that our association with her is a perfect combination, and we have a great time."

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