Friday, May 21, 2004 | 8:37 a.m.
One of the longest-running productions in Las Vegas doesn't get a lot of recognition, even though it is one of the most entertaining low-budget shows in town - $16.95 for the show and buffet dinner.
"Hot Lava" has been a staple at the Westward Ho's Crown Room for 16 years, running for three months at a time, this year from March 16 through June 7.
The production is the featured entertainment of the "Ho-Waiian Luau Dinner and Show," one of four promotional events hosted by the Westward throughout the year.
The slate of rotating productions also includes "Puttin' on the Ritz" (which ran from January through March); and the upcoming "Fabulous 50's Doo-Wop Dinner and Show" (June through August) and the country and western-themed "Grubstake Jamboree Steak Barbeque and Show" (August through November).
"Hot Lava" debuted at the Westward Ho in 1988.
While fans dine buffet-style in the combination dining room/showroom, a troupe of mostly Polynesian performers entertains them with fire dances, hulas, music and comedy.
The production will never make it to a major showroom on the Strip, but the cast seems content in the second-floor theater, where many fans return to see them time after time. For the past four years Rebecca and James Wiley of Oklahoma City have planned their vacation around attending a "Hot Lava" performance. The trip is part of their wedding anniversary celebration -- the couple have been married for 40 years.
The production is the brainchild of Runi Tafeaga, a native of Samoa who grew up in Hawaii, attended the University of Hawaii and then got into entertainment when he attended a performance by some of his relatives who were in a revue.
Tafeaga not only produces "Hot Lava," he makes the costumes, does the choreography, plays percussion, dances, sings, performs comedy and hosts the show.
Among the cast of about 20 are line captain Epi Sala (of Hawaii) Kehau Cosem (Hawaii), Jannette Buttars (Cook Islands), Pua Carlin (Hawaii) and Yvette George (Hawaii).
Male dancers include Tapu Vaafusupepe (Samoa), Xavier Warren (Samoa), Karl Paua (Hawaii) and Isaako (Samoa).
Not everyone is from the South Pacific -- magician James Kellogg Jr. is from San Diego, and the Untouchables team of acrobats and limbo dancer Samson Baya are from Kenya.
Drummer Orlando Santos is from Vegas, bassist Masi Sala is from Samoa and guitarist Manea Manuma is from Hawaii.
Two muscular Polynesian males kick off the main part of the show by blowing conch shells, a signal for a male and female dancer to perform a greeting dance.
Most of the show is dancing, including one hilarious routine with Tafeaga and three others dressed as Maori tribal warriors. There are hulas, slap dances and fire dancing (performed by One Tovo and Mika Fonoti).
Kellogg makes a brief appearance, performing a magic routine that mostly involves producing live pigeons out of scarves.
The acrobats from Kenya are worth seeing -- especially a rope-skipping routine in which members of the team take turns skipping a long rope while performing acrobatics.
Tafeaga warms up the audience as they file into the room and are seated at the long dining tables. The warm-up continues as, section by section, patrons are escorted to the buffet.
For the first 15 minutes Tafeaga sings a couple of songs and cuts up with the audience.
He makes sure every part of the room is brought into the act, asking people where they are from, how long they have been married and similar routine questions he turns into a comedy bit.
"Hi, where are you from?" he asks one fan sitting next to the stage.
"Texas," the fan replied.
"Aloha you all," Tafeaga said. "Welcome to the United States."