Review: ‘Nights of Fire’
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
Waikiki rarely sees anything different or unusual in large-scale showroom entertainment. With the exception of “Legends in Concert – Waikiki” and recent, short-lived predecessors at the Royal Hawaiian Center, there hasn’t been much to get excited about in Waikiki since the invasion of Iraq 10 years ago.
“Benise’s Nights of Fire! Hawaii,” which opened earlier this month at the Waikiki Beachcomber, changes that.
‘Benise’s Nights of Fire! Hawaii’
» Where: Waikiki Beachcomber Resort, 2300 Kalakaua Ave.
Mono-monikered acoustic guitarist Benise (pronounced Buh-ness-see) is a former street entertainer who comes to Waikiki via Las Vegas and a PBS television special, “Nights of Fire!” The show — more than 90-minutes of colorful cross-cultural music and dance was featured on Wednesday, March 27 — explores “world music” from a Latin-flavored perspective that blends elements of Argentine tango, Brazilian samba and Spanish flamenco with rock and pop.
The musical journey includes plenty of time in Cuba, a nod to the modern Bollywood music of India and a stop in Hawaii that is not — repeat, not — the standard hapa haole hula or Tahitian number often seen in tourist-oriented productions.
Benise is a charismatic entertainer with the long hair and general stage presence of the hero of a women’s romance novel. The show opens as the story of man with an enchanted guitar who is searching the world for his lost love.
Video clips introduce each big song-and-dance number; we see Benise carrying his guitar across a desert, visiting the Taj Mahal, riding a gondola in Venice, prowling the streets of Paris, and so on.
While Benise rules the stage as the show’s Alpha Male and master showman, violinist Luciana (also a one-name performer) establishes herself musically and visually as his co-star. Benise and Luciana take their instruments out into the audience several times to play energetic instrumental duets there. Folks in the center section get a chance to watch them up close.
Dance is a huge part of the show — Latin dances particularly. The show’s two male dancers are handsome multi-talented guys; one of them also plays rhythm guitar, one also sings.
Their six female counterparts are dynamos; the word “awesome” has been a hackneyed accolade for at least a decade so let’s say that the intensity of the performances in the lengthy up tempo dance numbers is “amazing” as well as seductive.
There is beauty in the slower numbers as well. The show’s piece de resistance dance-wise is the leisurely, beautifully executed pas de deux performance in a number titled “Marionette.” With no strings attached, the grace, precision, and elegance of the couple create a “stop the show, I wanna see more” moment. He lifts and positions her as if she were weightless, her movements are fluid perfection.
The couple has a shorter show-stopping showcase piece later in the show.
There is more good news regarding Benise and his performers. Hawaii residents who were put off by the aggressive, in-your-face, “we want you to make a fool of yourself,” audience participation stuff in Lani Misalucha’s show at the Beachcomber last year need not worry about any such tawdriness this time.
No one in the audience gets put on the spot in this show, and the three people who were invited up stage on Wednesday were not asked — let alone pressured — to do anything that might be embarrassing. That’s the way audience participation should always be done in Waikiki.
And, as it turns out, there is more to the show than musician fantasy. Benise takes time near the end of the show to share some of his real-life story: He was a rock guitarist who discovered flamenco, switched from electric to traditional acoustic guitar, and began developing a nouveau flamenco or “rockmenco” style. He couldn’t find a nightclub or bar that was interested in his music so he took his music to the street, formed a group of like-minded entertainers and built a following there.
Benise and his four core musicians demonstrate how he did it in his street musicians days as they play a rockmenco arrangement of “Hotel California” that is one of the most imaginative moments in an imaginative show.
“New” and “unusual” have rarely been easy sells in Waikiki. With luck, Benise will hit. Fans of progressive world fusion music, and above all, anyone interested in contemporary dance in a stage or showroom context, will find plenty to enjoy in with Benise and his “Nights of Fire!” at the Beachcomber.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.