"Welk musicians bring back memories for Lied crowd"
by John Cutler
For the Lincoln Journal Star
Thursday, February 28, 2002

The "ah-one-and-ah-two" was gone, as were all those bubbles, but some of the elements that made the "Lawrence Welk Show" a television staple came to the Lied Center for Performing Arts Wednesday to help a crowd of 1,200 remember what it was all about.
 
The audience came from all over. Vanloads from retirement homes, groups from as far away as Yankton and Norfolk, buses from Omaha, all coming to hear and see the voices and instruments out of the past live on the stage. Ralna English and Ava Barber, Henry Cuesta, Jack Imel and Mary Lou Metzger.
 
The dozen instrumentalists in the band were under the baton of John Baylor, who is married to Janet Lennon of the Lennon Sisters.
 
The music started with Barber, who recruited two men from the house to help sing, "Ya'll Come" for the opener. "Jim" and "Martin" did the response, and Martin took a real shine to showbiz with his antics. The crowd laughed and clapped along.
 
English came to the stage with "Tangerine" and "Green Eyes," then let the emotions go with a touching "Wind Beneath My wings." She explained her positive relationship with former husband Guy, noting they were still friends. In the second act, English held the house spellbound with a lush rendering of "I'll Be Seeing You."
 
A Welk show would not be a show without dancers. For the tour that included the Lied Center, Russian dancers Pasha and Iona performed. They are an excellently trained pair, but their forte is NOT the polka. The pair danced the "Pennsylvania Polka," but their near-ballet elements were much too polished and classical for the usual Welk Show fare.
 
That's not to say the dancer don't deserve accolades. Late in the show the pair danced a carefully choreographed "Waltz of the Flowers," then a Cossack dance that was breathtaking in its precision and partnership. Near the close of the show, it was announced that Pasha is becoming a United States citizen, with Aylona soon to follow. A huge round of applause came from the crowd.
 
While the dancers drew much attention, it was perhaps the oldest of the musicians, Cuesta and Imel, who held the crowd's attention.
Cuesta is know for his Benny Goodman-style clarinet playing. It was apparent with a rousing "Sing, Sing, Sing." as the crowd clapped along, and a driving "Begin the Beguine." But far away from the Goodman style was his "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," which he said was the first number he performed with the Lawrence Welk Orchestra.
 
Imel is a marimbist and dancer too. After showing off his mallets on "Lover," he joined Metzger for a tap dance pairs routine to "You Gotta Have Heart." During the 1960s Welk shows, Imel would occasionally jump over the marimba in his dancing. he told the crowd he wouldn't try it Wednesday, and in the routine that followed, Imel approached the marimba three times with jumping on his mind, but would stop short as the crowd howled.
Patrons stood and began to sing with English on the band's finale, "God Bless America." It was a touching moment and the crowd stayed on its feet for the traditional Welk show closing, "Good Night."
 
It was, indeed, a good night for the house, mostly seniors, who came to remember and enjoy what used to be the mainstay of the
Saturday night TV diet.
 

 

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