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The Legends are back

The show will feature impersonators singing like Lady Gaga and Elton John

By Allison Schaefers

LAST UPDATED: 2:27 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

The Legends in Concert, a celebrity impersonator show, is returning to its former home in the Royal Hawaiian Center, and this time owners say that it's going to be bigger than the one in Vegas.

The show, which is the result of a partnership between Las Vegas-based Onstage Entertainment Inc., owner of the Legends in Concert brand, and longtime Hawaii cruise and transportation operator Star of Honolulu Cruises & Events, will bring 70 jobs to Waikiki. It will also fill the 21,000-square-foot space left vacant when Roy Tokujo's Las Vegas-style show, Waikiki Nei, closed in 2008.

Legends in Concert Waikiki will debut Dec. 8 after the center's fourth-floor, 700-seat theater undergoes another multimillion-dollar renovation. The year-round Waikiki production kicks off with a six-day-a-week schedule offering cocktail shows and dinner packages.

It will feature performers paying tribute to perennial favorites like Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson as well as contemporary and classic characters including Lady Gaga, Elton John, Britney Spears, Rod Stewart, Madonna and Prince. The performers sing their characters' hits and do not lip-sync. Dancers and a live band will complete the show.

"It will be as big as our biggest show that we present anywhere in this world," said Brian Brigner, Legends in Concert's chief operating officer. "It will be the biggest show in our system — even bigger than Vegas."

Legends in Concert typically features more than 80 superstar personas that are rotated through its eight domestic and international venues; however, Brigner said that the Waikiki show will reflect this destination.

"We have a formula that has worked well for 28 years, but we are writing this show specifically for this market," he said.

The re-entry of Legends into Waikiki marks the culmination of nearly a decade of negotiations between the partners, said Ron Howard, Star of Honolulu's president.

"We've wanted to bring this show back for many years," Howard said. "The timing is right for many reasons. It's a great venue. There's not much in the way of night life in Waikiki. And, we expect strong demand from our customers."

Legends will be drawing on Star's 50-year reputation and expertise in the Hawaii market, Brigner said.

"Star is an investment partner that brings not only capital to the table, but also many valuable local connections and a wealth of experience in growing a successful business in Hawaii," he said.

The show will need strong marketing, honest management and financial stability if it is to succeed, said longtime Hawaii performer Tommy D, who played Roy Orbison for two years before the previous Legends show in Waikiki abruptly closed in 1999.

"We sold tickets on a Monday, and on Tuesday 128 people lost their jobs," he said. "This time around, I hope that it succeeds. The kids need work."

Ownership of the previous Waikiki Legends belonged to the now-defunct RBLS Partnership of Nevada, which licensed the brand name from Onstage but was not otherwise affiliated with the company. RBLS closed the show and filed for Chapter 7 liquidation after a drop in Japanese visitors, its primary market at the time, hurt revenues, and a 1997 lawsuit alleging the wrongful firing of two managers cost the company more than $550,000.

Since then at least four other impersonator shows, including Aloha Las Vegas — the one that gave Bruno Mars his start, have failed, Tommy D said.

"It's a tough business," said Keith Vieira, senior vice president and director of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which offers Creations at its Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel.

"We used to do 1,500 to 2,000 people a night in the '80s," Vieira said. "Now we play to about 200 to 400 people several times a week, and that's pretty good for this market. It's not deep enough to sustain a lot of shows. We have too many repeat visitors."

Onstage and Star of Honolulu bring stability, said Sam Shenkus, a spokeswoman for the Festival Cos., which manages the Royal Hawaiian Center for Kamehameha Schools.

"In the past it was a licensing agreement," Shenkus said. "This show is well funded by its partners, and it's operated by Onstage, a veteran producer with a tried and tested show. They've been entertaining people successfully for about 30 years, and the fact that they want to put their flagship here is really exciting."

The show's return signals recovery in Hawaii's visitor industry, said Momi Akimseu, the Hawaii Tourism Authority's tourism brand manager.

"The showroom has been empty for some years," Akimseu said. "It's a good sign that they want to reopen. It shows confidence in our visitor market."

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