The LuWow Factor

Vegas goes Hawaiian in new tropical treat, Island Heat LuWow


Lei odds on this one.

Pack 90 minutes’ worth of show-biz bang into 45 that fly by like five? Nifty trick pulled off with Pacific Rim panache in Treasure Island’s’ new Island Heat LuWow. They even feed you first (try the piña colada chicken or the macadamia-crusted mahimahi), as it’s a regional-cuisine dinner show inside the intimate showroom of the Kahunaville restaurant, adjacent to the Mystère Theatre.

File Island Heat under the big-things-come-in-small-packages header. Co-headlined by singer/dancer Charlene Carabeo (formerly of Peepshow) and Elvis impersonator Tyler Hunter (of the original Vegas cast of Million Dollar Quartet), this is a tropical joyride of singing, dancing, pounding tribal drums, flexing pecs and supersonic-level wriggle-jiggle. Oh, and Blue Hawaii-era Elvis.

While we’re scarfing down dessert, easygoing singer-musician Jefferson Montoya warms us up with folk-style, island-flavored takes on “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “Over the Rainbow,” plus a sing-along on Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

Immediately after—in a refreshing display of truth in advertising—luau does become a furiously paced “LuWow.”

Tahitian-style tribal drummers take to the skins as skin-baring male and female dancers stream onstage in a hot dance before Hunter’s Elvis hip-shakes into the spotlight. More naturalistic than many tribute artists who take the Elvis persona to extreme caricature, Hunter sprints through a repertoire that ducks in and out of the track lists from The King’s Blue Hawaii (1961) and Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966).  Highlights include “Drums of the Island,” “Girls! Girls! Girls!” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”

Complementing Hunter’s cool is Carabeo’s sizzle. Once she steps onstage, the energy level ratchets up even more, particularly when she whips up the crowd with “Get on Your Feet” and “Conga,” taking a few dance spins with men in the audience. Fortunately, Carabeo and Hunter have a couple of duets, and they share a breezy chemistry.

Doubling as choreographer, Carabeo assembles several Polynesian-inspired dance numbers that keep the pace galloping along between her and Hunter’s lead moments. Iridescence is a major element as the dancers dazzle by twirling neon-tipped spears in, over and around their undulating bodies to the tribal drumbeat.

When Hunter returns, it’s for an audience love-in on “Blue Hawaii” as the ladies in the crowd are invited up, with Hunter laying a lei and a kiss on each, before he kicks it up on “Rock-a-Hula Baby,” getting the entire audience on their feet and pulling up dance partners.

Keeping the walls shaking, Hunter and Carabeo team on a raucous version of “Bossa Nova Baby,” the stage jammed with dancers. Even the Black Eyed Peas get a shout-out on a tribal drum-accented “I Gotta Feeling” with its apropos refrain, Tonight’s gonna be a good night.

Though it’s a modestly scaled production with a 45-minute run time, Island Heat LuWow manages to let you leave feeling like you’ve enjoyed a hearty entertainment meal.

Las Vegas is awash in over-the-top spectacle, but seeing this is like walking the shoreline, picking up an oyster, cracking it open and finding a small, pretty little pearl.

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