Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Isle singers find it's good to pretend to be King

Portraying Elvis is a royal gig in Waikiki, where you can see two Presleys at once

By John Berger


When it comes to celebrity impersonators, Elvis is The King.

In fact, Elvis Presley is so popular that the "Legends in Concert Waikiki" show has two of them.

Victor Trevino Jr., who joined the cast last month, portrays Elvis circa 1961. Hawaii-born Johnny Fortuno, who portrayed "young Elvis" during the show's first year here, now headlines the Waikiki production as the 1973-vintage "Aloha from Hawaii" Elvis.

Among the things Trevino and Fortuno have in common is a strong dislike for the many "bad Elvis" acts out there.

Buy a cheap copy of the classic white, spangled jumpsuit, slap on a pair of fake sideburns, mumble "Thankyuvurrymuch" after every song you mangle, and you too can impersonate Elvis.



>> Where: Royal Hawaiian Theater, Royal Hawaiian Center

>> When: 8:15 p.m., daily except Mondays

>> Cost: $50 (cocktails only), $90-$180 (dinner packages)

>> Info: 629-7469 or

>> Note: Preliminary round in Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, authorized by Elvis Presley Enterprises, will be held Saturday. Call or go online for details.




"Many of the impersonators have given Elvis himself a bad name because when people think of Elvis they think of (the bad impersonator)," Trevino said. "I try to defy that because when you watch the old videos of Elvis in the '50s — and even in the '70s — he was really cool, he was really a cool cat. I like to be able to remind younger audiences what he was really like.

"It's the biggest compliment when a young person comes up to me and says, ‘I never liked Elvis until I saw you perform.'"

When not portraying Elvis in "Legends" or on behalf of Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis, Tenn., Trevino performs and records original music he describes as "roots music, rockabilly, old country and old R&B."

"Everyone says I should have been born in the '50s," he said.

Fortuno, who started working as an entertainer in Hawaii 16 years ago, has a parallel career performing as himself. He got his start when his voice teacher heard a recording he'd made for her to critique and thought it was Elvis. She gave the cassette to a local bandleader who offered him a chance to work.

Fortuno paid his dues, working here and then on the mainland. He describes his first experience in Las Vegas as "shell shock," but ended up working in various mainland cities for most of the past decade.

For much of that time he performed as himself rather than as Elvis, but when "Legends" contacted him in 2011 and offered him the role of "young Elvis" in the show that was going to open here, he decided it was time to come home.

"The thing that makes (portraying Elvis) fun for me is the music," Fortuno says, "I can connect to a lot of the music he picked. ‘My Way' (and) ‘I'll Remember You' are beautiful lyric music that I can actually live and breathe."

Hawaii's best-known homegrown Elvis impressionist is Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Bruno Mars.


"I have reason to believe that Elvis used this boat to water-ski when he was in Hawaii. This may have taken place either on Oahu or on Kauai. The story is that he preferred this boat over similar models because it had a larger V-8 engine. The boat is a 1958 Chris Craft Capri, 19 feet long. It has been in Hawaii since it was new in 1958. I would love to find someone with a photo of Elvis on water skis using this boat or anyone who may recall this boat. It looks pretty much now as it did then, with red upholstery.”

Brian Swindale
Hawaii Kai

Share your memories and photos of Elvis Presley in Hawaii. Email or call 529-4778.

Born Peter Hernandez Jr., Mars gained international notice in 1990 as "the world's youngest Elvis" while working in Waikiki with his father, Pete "Dr. Doo Wop" Hernandez.

(Mars' management did not respond to an interview request for this story.)

Bruno's mentor in those early days was his uncle, multitalented entertainer John Valentine. Valentine began doing an impression of Elvis in 1981 "as a goof," but the bit became so popular he developed it into a fully costumed act. The elder Hernandez encouraged Valentine to expand his Elvis act when he joined Hernandez's show band, The Love Notes.

When Valentine baby-sat his now-famous nephew, he would entertain the toddler with moves from his Elvis act. Before long, Mars was copying him move for move, and Hernandez decided it was time to add his son to The Love Notes show.

"When we put him on stage (in Waikiki), that was the end of The Love Notes," Valentine said with a chuckle. "I spent time with him on stage while he was still learning. After about six months I said, ‘I'm done. I'm not doing Elvis again,' and then he just did it by himself. He was 4."

("World's Youngest Elvis," as Mars was known, appeared in the 1992 film "Honeymoon in Vegas" and remains a YouTube favorite.)

Valentine dusted off his Elvis gear 12 years later to perform in a locally produced celebrity impersonator show, "Aloha, Las Vegas," that featured Mars as Michael Jackson.

"Bruno started showing me some (Elvis) moves that I incorporated in the show. … This time Bruno was teaching me."

Valentine is still a full-time performer but said he sold his Elvis costume last year.


"Legends in Concert Waikiki" is hosting a preliminary round in Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, authorized by Elvis Presley Enterprises, on Saturday. For details, call 629-7469 or visit

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