Review: ‘Legends’ welcomes new cast

Dec. 14, 2012 | 0 Comments
<em>Elvis is back in the building at the Royal Hawaiian Center. (Star-Advertiser photo by Bruce Asato)</em>

Elvis is back in the building at the Royal Hawaiian Center. (Star-Advertiser photo by Bruce Asato)

REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

All forms of theater require us to make an initial suspension of disbelief in order for it to entertain us. For instance, we know that those aren’t really witches and flying monkeys on the stage in “Wicked,” and that we’re not watching people actually kill each other in “West Side Story” or “Romeo and Juliet.” However, with the suspension of that knowledge, and convincing performances by talented actors, the characters on stage and the things we see them experience become “real” and we respond accordingly.

‘Legends in Concert Waikiki’

» Where: Royal Hawaiian Theatre, Royal Hawaiian Center
» When: 8:15 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (no performances from Dec. 17 through Dec. 24)
» Cost: $50 (cocktails only), $90 (luau), $140 (VIP, includes premium dinner) and $180 (“Green Room” package includes premium dinner, pre-show backstage tour and reception)
» Info: 629-7469 or www.legendswaikiki.com

That same suspension of reality fuels the new 2013 production of “Legends in Concert Waikiki” that opened Tuesday, Dec. 11. Suspend your knowledge that Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson have “left the building” forever, and that Steven Tyler and Madonna aren’t playing the Royal Hawaiian Theatre this week, and the show’s talented star impressionists — “tribute artist” is the preferred term — recreate those musical icons with convincing multi-faceted performances.

Chris VanDahl (Steven Tyler) brings the character of the iconic Aerosmith vocalist to the Waikiki “Legends” show for the first time. VanDahl has the lips, the voice, the moves and the requisite attitude. Tyler is evidently huge in Japan; the VIP section down front was filled almost entirely with Japanese visitors on opening night and they gave him an enthusiastic welcome. I would like to have heard a little more of “Dude Looks Like A Lady” during VanDahl’s time on stage, but his animated renditions of “I Wouldn’t Want To Miss A Thing,” “Walk This Way,” “Sweet Emotion” and “Dream On” were convincing and they all earned applause from the crowd.

<em>Chris VanDahl as Steven Tyler. (Star-Advertiser photo by Bruce Asato)</em>

Chris VanDahl as Steven Tyler. (Star-Advertiser photo by Bruce Asato)

Kimberly Goltry (Madonna) was another instant audience favorite on opening night. It’s been more than a decade since Aileen Fairbanks portrayed the “Material Girl” in the original “Legends in Concert” show here and Goltry brings Madonna back to Waikiki in effervescent, high-octane style.

The third new star in the show is Victor Trevino Jr., who makes his Waikiki debut portraying the “young Elvis” of the 50s and early 60s. All “Legends” stars are required to sing in their own natural voices, but Trevino’s ability is particularly noteworthy. His first three numbers — “Drums of the Islands,” “Rock-A-Hula Baby” and “Blue Hawaii” — establish for one and all Elvis’ ties to Hawaii. “Heartbreak Hotel” is a nod to Elvis’ hits of the ‘50s.

<em>Hawaii-born Johnny Fortuno, left, and Victor Trevino Jr. (Star-Advertiser photo by Bruce Asato)</em>

Hawaii-born Johnny Fortuno, left, and Victor Trevino Jr. (Star-Advertiser photo by Bruce Asato)

Hawaii-born Johnny Fortuno is one of two veterans who have been held over for a second year. Fortuno opened the Waikiki show a year ago as “young Elvis”and now proves equally convincing in the headliner role of “older Elvis.” He’s now singing hits from Elvis’ 1973 “Aloha from Hawaii” concert and closes with a rendition of “My Way” that for power and emotional intensity would do credit to any singer — “tribute artist” or otherwise.

Damien Brantley (Michael Jackson), the other hold-over, continues to re-create the timeless magic of MJ with his own eye-catching dancing in “Smooth Criminal,” “Thriller” and “Billie Jean.” Brantley has the voice down, too. The longer he’s on, the stronger the illusion becomes.

Audience involvement continues to be part of the “Legends” experience. Trevino leaves the stage to give orchid lei to several women in the VIP area while he sings “Blue Hawaii.” VanDahl goes out to shake hands with some of the folks down front as well. On Tuesday he serenaded one woman with “Dream On” and than briefly sat on her lap while one of her friends took a picture of them; the woman appeared to enjoy the experience.

<em>The cast performs on opening night. (Star-Advertiser photo by Bruce Asato)</em>

The cast performs on opening night. (Star-Advertiser photo by Bruce Asato)

Fortuno literally takes “meet the audience” to another level when he leaves the stage while singing “Suspicious Minds” and goes up into the cocktail seating upstairs to shake hands with men and kiss women there. Reaching out to the folks who didn’t buy the big-bucks dinner packages is a nice touch!

And, just for the record, this isn’t a karaoke-style show. The stars are supported musically by five black-clad musicians — drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and percussionist Lopaka Colòn — and two eye-catching female singer/dancers. Additional dancers of both sexes enhance the visual experience while sometimes doubling as stagehands in moving various props.

Bottom line? This is musical theater just like “Wicked” or “Miss Saigon.” For those willing to suspend their knowledge of realty and accept the premise, the new “Legends” line-up provides an evening of big-scale musical entertainment.
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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