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August 22, 2014

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With new addition, SOS rescues afternoon slot at Bally’s

One of Vegas' most talented groups of performers has added a new dimension to its former all-male cast -- Lani Misalucha, a sultry, sensual and richly talented woman who can sing with the best of them.

The Society of Seven has been entertaining fans with an arsenal of impressions and music for decades. They first came to Vegas as the Fabulous Echoes from Hong Kong in 1964 for a four-week engagement at the Thunderbird that turned into a gig that lasted more than four years.

In 1969 they moved to Hawaii, where they were one of the state's top tourist attractions. Then, three years ago, SOS decided to return to Vegas, leaving behind a second SOS group to hold down the fort in the Aloha State.

After a successful five-month run at the Las Vegas Hilton they moved to the Golden Nugget in early 2002, a deal that went sour amid accusations by SOS that impressionist Danny Gans was trying to force them out of the venue, a charge that was denied by a Gans spokesman when the allegations were first made.

According to claims by SOS, Gans' contract with MGM MIRAGE dictated that no other impressionists would work for the organization. Gans performs at the Mirage, an MGM MIRAGE property. At the time, the Golden Nugget was owned by the same corporation.

SOS left the Nugget and, in November 2002, turned up at the Aladdin's CenterStage, a 400-seat, cabaret-style showroom. But they lost the gig after a few months, when the hotel decided to turn the space over to magician Steve Wyrick.

The group was without a home until it premiered at Bally's 1,100-seat Jubilee! Theatre this month. Bally's is part of the Caesars Entertainment family.

It's too bad that such a talented troupe hasn't received more respect from executives at some of the venues at which they've played in the past.

At least SOS has the respect of their many fans.

There have been a few changes in their production since their brief stay at the Aladdin -- most notably the addition of Lani, one of the top female vocalists in the Philippines.

Recognizing a good thing when they see it, SOS has fully integrated her into the production -- sometimes accepting the role of a backup band, allowing the gifted vocalist to stand alone in the spotlight.

And when she does, Lani shines -- especially when she is using her own voice and not trying to impersonate such popular singers as Barbra Streisand (one of her best impressions), Whitney Houston (also very good), Shania Twain (not so good) or a dozen others.

Lani has a powerful voice with remarkable range that has you holding your breath as you wait for her to reach the end of a note. Lani is a good enough vocalist in her own right; she doesn't need to imitate anyone to be impressive.

The first half of the show was devoted to impressions of entertainers who have worked in Vegas through the years, among them the Rat Pack, Chubby Checker, Celine Dion, Sonny and Cher, Gladys Knight, Wayne Newton and many others.

Not all of the impressions are that impressive, but even the flops are fun in the hands of the SOS gang.

After acknowledging several popular performers in Vegas (among them Clint Holmes, the Scintas and Lance Burton), SOS gave a special salute to their alleged nemesis, Gans.

"In his show Danny Gans does a Christmas song nightly, because he believes every day is Christmas," said SOS leader and show emcee (and performer) Tony Ruivivar. "Well, we do, too."

Multitalented Gary Bautista, another standout in the production, did an impression of Gans doing impressions of a dozen celebrities doing their version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

An evening with SOS is always a fun evening -- or rather, afternoon, since that is now their time slot. Whether enough fans are willing to attend a matinee performance to fill the showroom on a daily basis remains to be seen, but with Lani in the cast, perhaps the production is enhanced enough to provide the extra incentive.

The production opens and closes on patriotic themes -- at the beginning it's with a rousing rendition of Neil Diamond's "America," and at the end it's "God Bless America" and Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."

When Lani sang "God Bless America," several fans began to cry.

It was a powerful ending to a fast-paced show that ranged from slapstick comedy to disco to an abbreviated version of "Phantom of the Opera."

Some of the comedy has become a little dated, but that is a minor distraction in a show that packs a lot of entertainment into 75 minutes.

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