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Clubs in and around Orange County | NIGHT SHIFT

Island Beats

An elaborate stage show at Sam's Seafood takes diners to a Polynesian paradise of song and dance.

May 01, 1997|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SUNSET BEACH — Who needs Honolulu? No one within reach of the Polynesian Spectacular at Sam's Seafood.

OK, so Sunset Beach may not quite offer the sparkling sky, the diamond beaches or the swaying palms of the Hawaiian Islands. But there is the chance to experience a Hawaiian dinner show, cast in the mold of those put on at big resort hotels. And once inside Sam's inner sanctum--an enormous, tropically themed showroom called Hidden Village--the islands don't seem far away at all.

The show, now in its fourth season, was created by the Hawaiian-born Aurora Napua Kaawa. A former Miss Hawaii, Kaawa is the producer, choreographer, costumer, dancer and materfamilias here. The cast includes her sister (emcee and lead singer), her brother (a singer and musician) and one of her daughters (a dancer). All 11 performers have Pacific roots, either in Hawaii, Tahiti or Samoa.

This is a loud, energetic production with solid family appeal. At least half the audience shows up in some sort of Polynesian-theme shirt, and there is no shortage of children.

First, every party is led to an individual table, nicer and more private than the group seating policy in most Las Vegas or Honolulu showrooms. Then, a banquet hall-style dinner is served: salad, a choice of entrees and a cream-topped vanilla pudding dessert.

After dinner, guests sip silly rum punches with parasols sticking out of pineapple spears while Kaawa's sister, Manu Aloha (bird of love), sings island show tunes accompanied by a trio of musicians. At 9 p.m. sharp, the extravaganza begins, with four dancers clad in yellow grass skirts and headdresses performing otea, a Tahitian wedding dance.

The idea of the show is to take the audience on a tour of Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand through native dance, song and costuming. Songs are performed in their respective languages. The costumes are authentic, hand-stitched by Kaawa herself.

The next big number is the Samoan body slap dance, and it suffices to say that dancing with Samoans, a fierce-looking bunch portrayed with tooth necklaces and headbands, appears to be a dicey proposition. Then comes a group of Hawaiian-style dancers in leis, assuming a posture far more conciliatory.

Now we learn that New Zealand is called "The Land of the Big White Cloud" in the Maori language, and we meet a Maori warrior, complete with face paint, spear and protruding tongue. Later in the show, in the Samoan fire dance, one of the dancers twirls a flaming ring and even sets his foot on fire. Ow!

Polynesian Spectacular lasts an uninterrupted one hour and 15 minutes and, judging from the audience reaction, is well received. All the percussive sounds and whooping remind me of an episode from "The Dukes of Hazzard," but that's all right. It is comforting to discover that good ol' boys in the South Pacific are no different than good ol' boys anywhere else.

BE THERE

Polynesian Spectacular at Sam's Seafood, 16278 Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Beach. (310) 592-1321. Fridays only; seating begins at 7 p.m. Dinner and show: $28.50 or $32 (depending on proximity to the stage), tax and tip inclusive; reservations are essential.

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