Elvis impersonators perform on Oahu. // © 2012 Legends in Concert Waikiki
Elvis Presley had a love affair with Hawaii, from his first voyage to the islands in 1957 to his return to film “Blue Hawaii,” “Girls! Girls! Girls!” and “Paradise, Hawaiian Style.” He often came back for live performances, such as the celebrated “Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii” telecast in 1973.
Now the King of Rock has “returned to the building” as part of the new “Legends In Concert Waikiki’s Rock-A-Hula” at the 700-person Royal Hawaiian Theater.
When the original Legends debuted in Waikiki in the 1990s, Elvis shared the spotlight with such tribute artists as Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson and Madonna. The new line-up currently showcases Jackson, Lady Gaga and dozens of other celebrities who rotate throughout the venues. Performers must look and sound like the superstars that they impersonate and lip-syncing is taboo.
In launching the show, Las Vegas-based On Stage Entertainment partnered with Hawaii-based Stars of Paradise Tours and Attractions that owns and operates Star of Honolulu cruises, among other operations.
A few nights after the soft opening, I checked out what’s hyped as a “concert-quality experience” with a VIP package, including a photo with “young” Elvis and a specialty cocktail in the VIP lounge. Grazing on taro chips, macadamia nuts and fruit, I met Brian Brigner, On Stage’s chief operating officer.
“We’ve made [Legends Waikiki] truly distinctive by incorporating Hawaii’s unique beauty, history and culture, which is a first for our show,” said Brigner. “It travels from yesterday to today, with a live band, dancers and elaborate stage sets.”
After 30 minutes, I was escorted to a private stage-side table and join others opting for the Green Room package that includes a backstage preview tour.
We feasted on surf and turf, including one of the best preparations of salmon I’ve had in Hawaii. A bit surprised at first, I recalled the tasty cuisine on a recent Star of Honolulu dinner cruise. Clearly the parent company shows a knack for dinner-show fare.
And then it was show time. On each side of the stage, there were four screen panels showing vintage video footage, with dancers making their way front and center. Young Elvis arrives “Blue Hawaii”-style in a canoe and then belts out the show’s theme song.
Between young and mature Elvis, we enjoyed favorites such as “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Burning Love,” “Suspicious Minds” and “An American Trilogy.” Elton John blasted through favorites like “Crocodile Rock,” “I’m Still Standing” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” Lady Gaga chimed in with “Paparazzi,” “Bad Romance” and “Born This Way.” But the biggest crowd pleaser was Michael Jackson, who pulled out all the signature moves and mannerisms to “Billie Jean,” “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal.”
It was especially fun to see the audience hanker for the performers’ photographs and autographs after the show, blurred to the fact that these are tribute artists rather than the real deal.
Rock-A-Hula has the potential to be a hit with its choreography, costuming and music. I’m hoping the show garners more buzz, since it’s the type of entertainment that can invigorate Waikiki’s nightlife scene.