"We literally worked on this new special for over a year," said Ralna in a recent interview. "It's been a real experience and I hope everyone will enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it."
The idea of producing "Ralna English: From My Heart" for national television actually began in January 2005 when Ralna performed with the West Valley Symphony at the Sundome Center for the Performing Arts near Phoenix. "Ralna was fabulous that night. Her voice was impeccable, she looked fantastic and the audience was with her every step of the way," said Susie Dowdy, producer of "Ralna English: From My Heart."
The Sundome had two cameras that night which projected images of Ralna performing throughout the show. "I was backstage with the director watching the TV monitors and the various shots they were projecting of Ralna on their big screens on either side of the stage. It was unbelievable. I knew then, that Ralna's symphony show needed to become a public television TV show," Susie said.
Coincidentally, a few months later, the Charlotte Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) showed interest in booking Ralna in their 2006 season schedule. "Albert Moehring, conductor for the CPO, Susie Dowdy and I all met in October 2005," Ralna said. "The CPO had produced a couple of great shows that were distributed to public television stations and we felt that with Ralna performing her beautiful symphony arrangements, accompanied by their 75-piece orchestra and adding a huge gospel choir and dancers, we might have something that public television stations could use as a fundraiser," Susie added.
In January 2006, Ralna, Albert and Susie traveled to Houston, Texas to attend the annual National Educational Television Association (NETA) meeting of public television professionals. "We tested the waters to see if stations would like this type of show starring Ralna with a huge philharmonic and choir, performing big band, jazz, patriotic and gospel songs. The reaction was overwhelmingly favorable and they were very encouraging," said Susie.
In late January 2006, PBS agreed to put their name on the show and "Ralna English: From My Heart" became a national PBS special to premiere in March 2007.
"The work really began then. We decided it would be a great one-hour television special (two hour live concert)," said Ralna. "The songs I chose to sing in 'Ralna English: From My Heart' are songs that are truly from my heart. Each has a special meaning for me and I could tell a story about each and every one of them," Ralna added.
"We asked longtime TV programmer and
station manager Bill Thrash at OETA-The Oklahoma Network for
his opinion on the order of the songs I wanted to perform in
the show. Between the two of us, we came up with three great
acts that we thought would work well as a PBS television special,"
With the show taping date of September 23, 2006 planned in Charlotte, North Carolina, much work needed to be accomplished. Ralna and Susie asked Robert L. "Bob" Allen, the executive producer of 13 national PBS Lawrence Welk specials and the weekly series and Welk Producer Bill Thrash to serve as 'creative consultants' for both her special and the pledge event. "No one knows more about producing successful fundraising specials for public television than Bob and Bill. Their advice and help was immeasurable," Susie said.
During the summer, Ralna traveled to Los Angeles and met with longtime costumer for "The Lawrence Welk Show," Rose Weiss. The two spent a day at the apparel mart looking for just the right costumes for Ralna to wear for "Ralna English: From My Heart." "That day we found the black dress for Act One and the brick-colored dress for Act Three," said Ralna. "Rosie is inspirational to me. She was a lot of help and a lot of fun!" Ralna added. "I found the red dress I wore in Act Two in a little shop near Phoenix. When I saw it hanging in the window, it took my breath away! I knew I had to have it!" Ralna said.
In September, Ralna went to Branson, Missouri to perform with other members of the Welk Musical Family at the Champagne Theatre, but as executive producer of her new special, her work didn't stop. "We had weekly conference call meetings that started in late July and didn't stop until Susie and I left for Charlotte on September 20th. It was pretty hectic performing two shows a day in Branson and working on this special at the same time," Ralna said.
On September 21, Ralna met the members of
the 75-piece Charlotte Philharmonic Orchestra in Charlotte for
their first rehearsal together. "We also met with the TV
production director that night and went over the dress rehearsal
activities for Saturday, September 23, the taping date"
On September 23, Ralna performed all 26 songs
at the 3 p.m. dress rehearsal, and then rested her voice until
the 8 p.m. show taping. "The audience that night totally
overwhelmed me when I first walked out on the stage singing 'Tangerine.'
I was so touched when I saw so many of my longtime fans in the
first couple of rows. And it was when the audience in the back
of the theatre and up in the balcony started a standing ovation
I almost choked…I was really touched, and you can see it
on my face in the opening song of the special" Ralna said.
"The audience consisted of not only loyal
'Ralna' fans who traveled to Charlotte from as far away as California,
Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Florida and everywhere in between,
but it was also made up of season ticket holders from the Charlotte
Philharmonic, some of whom never heard Ralna sing in person.
They became fans that night too," Susie said. "The
audience was the best ever…they gave Ralna eight standing
ovations and I think we show seven of them in the show. That
evening was really magical…Ralna and her audience shared
the moment and you see it in the special."
"As soon as we were finished taping the show, we had to turn right around the next day and begin editing it for television," Ralna said. "We stayed in Charlotte working on the special for another seven days. Then we went back to Arizona, and left two days later for Baltimore, Maryland to attend the PBS Development Conference to premiere a four-minute clip before public television programmers and fundraisers," Ralna said.
"PBS showcased Ralna's new special at the conference with a fabulous reception with more than 1,000 public television people from all over the country in attendance, including the new PBS President Paula Kerger and her husband. Ralna signed autographs and talked to many public television friends. We aired our clip on a couple of TVs at the reception and a lot of people said they couldn't wait to air her special in March," Susie said.
"When we returned from Baltimore, we
still had some editing to do on the special and left the next
week for Charlotte for another four days in the editing room.
When we left Charlotte this time, we were through editing and
we felt like we had a real winner," Susie said.
Now it was time to plan for the taping of
the pledge event in Oklahoma City at the OETA studios. "Bob
Allen and Bill Thrash were real gems in helping Susie and me
every step of the way, especially with the planning and execution
of the fundraising breaks, and in the editing process,"
Ralna said. "The studio set lighting was unbelievable…and
I really want to thank Leon Smith, Price Wooldridge and the OETA
production crew too. I almost like the pledge breaks better than
the show itself!" Ralna laughed.
"We were also very fortunate to find
the talent of Michael Dixon from Phoenix to be co-host of the
pledge breaks along with Kim Brasher from Oklahoma City. Michael
has been working in public television on-air fundraising for
about 20 years at KAET-Phoenix, and has also worked on-air for
KQED-San Francisco and WETA-Washington, D.C. He's also a syndicated
radio host in the Midwest and in Arizona," Susie said. "Kim
has worked in on-air fundraising for OETA-The Oklahoma Network,
also for 20 years, and was formerly Mrs. America, Miss Breck
(Shampoo) and first runner-up for Mrs. Universe. She's also married
and a mother of six and owns her own law practice," Susie
"All the time we were working on the special and the pledge event, we were working on the 'Ralna English Family Cookbook' too," Ralna said. "My sisters Sharon and Jane and I burned up the telephone lines between Texas, Arizona and California for several months working on our recipes and locating family photos for the cookbook."
The "Ralna English Family Cookbook" will be offered in March 2007 for a $60 pledge of support to your local PBS station. The cookbook contains 288 pages, and is filled with more than 400 recipes from Ralna, Sharon, Jane, their mother Lena Belle, their father Raul, their Aunt Billie, Aunt Eff and Aunt Pearl, Cousin Gladys, Ralna's daughter Julie, and many other relative's recipes. It also includes over 150 family photographs and many never-before-published photographs of Ralna as a child.
Public television stations in March will also offer a companion CD of "Ralna English: From My Heart" for a pledge of $75 as well as a choice of companion DVD or VHS for a pledge of $120. A "Super Combo" package, including the cookbook, CD and choice of DVD or VHS will be offered for a pledge of $240. "The CD, VHS and DVD will all contain four 'bonus' songs Ralna performed in the live show that were not aired on the PBS broadcast," said Susie. These songs include, "Wind Beneath My Wings," "Mary Did You Know," "And I Love You So," and "Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe."
"All of the 'thank you' gifts are exclusive to public television. That means you won't find the Cookbook, CD, VHS or DVD anywhere else, only by making a pledge to your local public television station. We hope everyone will show their love and support for Ralna by calling in a pledge of support to their local PBS station during her show in March," Susie said.
Copyright 2007 by R.E.E. Productions.
All worldwide rights reserved.