The following is an abridged version of the original story that appeared in the Pioneer Press, July 17, 2003, page B3. The reprint here has been abridged in professional courtesy of individuals no longer affiliated with the Barefoot Hawaiian.
By MICHELLE MINHOFF
As they sway to the songs of the South Pacific and juggle flaming torches, the Fires of Polynesia's performers bring the "aloha spirit" to the northwest suburbs.
The Fires of Polynesia touring group, which has been performing for the past three years, is an offshoot of the Des Plaines-based Barefoot Hawaiian Inc. dancers, who have been together for 20 years.
Members have traveled as far as Hawaii showcasing their talents in competitions, while entertaining local audiences.
The Fires of Polynesia performs at luaus catered by Bob Chinn's Crabhouse in Wheeling. The group's most recent luau took place on June 28 in Des Plaines; the next one will be from 6-9:30 p.m. Aug. 23 in Medinah.
When guests walk in, they receive leis made of flowers that have been flown in from the islands. The luaus feature Polynesian fashion shows, an "Aloha Elvis" tribute act by Mark Hussman and a grand climatic finale by the Fires of Polynesia. Bob Chinn's caters an all-you-can-eat buffet, which runs all night.
The restaurant's general manager, Peter Skountzos, explained that owner Bob Chinn decided to work with Fires of Polynesia since they were "a talented and wonderful group of people."
Chinn was so moved by their performances that he was willing to attach his name to the luaus, something he hadn't done for more than 20 years. Catering the events means a lot to Chinn since he started his business catering luaus on the North Shore, Skountzos said.
The Fires of Polynesia chooses its members from the main Barefoot Hawaiian group, which offers lessons in Polynesian dancing. Those students who show the most talent, interest and dedication are selected to audition for Fires of Polynesia when they turn 16, when they are able to earn money as dancers. They may start practicing when they are as young as 3 years old.
Scott Zuziak of Wheeling came up with the idea for the Fires of Polynesia. He said the group differs from the main Barefoot Hawaiians in that it is "faster-paced, higher-energy and appeals to a different crowd. It is a takeoff from the shows of Barefoot Hawaiian and is more theatrical. All performers are involved in every part of the show, including the staging and lighting."
When Zuziak performs, he uses a staff-like prop blazing with fire on either end. He was among the top three scorers in his division at the World Fire Knife competition in Hawaii in May.
Zuziak gives most credit for the success of Fires of Polynesia to Gwen Kennedy, the founder of Barefoot Hawaiian.
"Gwen made it possible for us to attain what we have," Zuziak said.
The Fires of Polynesia will perform at the Tropical Nights Luau, 5-10 p.m. Aug. 23 at Thorndale Parlc, 22W130 Thorndale Ave., Medinah. Ticlcets are $56 per person, or $21 for children 6 to 12 years old; children 5 and younger are free. Call (847) 699-7336 or buy ticlcets at Bob Chinn's Crabhouse, 393 S. Mil·waulcee Ave., Wheeling, or the Barefoot Hawaiian office, 1401 E. Oakton St., Des Plaines. Upcoming performances by the Barefoot Hawaiians include: 8 p.m. July 31 at the Wilmette Parle District's Gilson Parle Starlight Theater; 7 p.m. Aug. 8 at Long Grove's Fountain Square; and 2:45 p.m. Aug. 30 at Buffalo Grove Days. For details, visit the Web site www. barefoothawaiian. corn.