- Musical family simply "Wunnerful"
By Dennis Oblander, Heritage
Newspapers, Monroe, MI
- TOLEDO When "4
Wunnerful Women" take the stage at Toledos Valentine
Theatre on May 19 and again at Soaring Eagle Casino on May 20,
there is no need to take the family theyll already
- Ava Barber, Ralna English,
Gail Farrell and Mary Lou Metzger, stars of the Lawrence Welk
Shows "musical family," will use their unique
bond of friendship to spark a show that blends nostalgia, humor
and musical variety.
- Also performing are two "wunnerful"
family men: Barbers husband, Roger, is the shows
drummer; Metzgers husband, Richard Maloof, a Welk show
regular, will play bass.
- "Its a very tight,
well-produced show that has a lot to offer," English said
in a telephone interview from Phoenix. "We cover a lot of
material. We do country. We do gospel. We do patriotic, and Mary
Lou even does a little Broadway."
- The musical mix will be reminiscent
of the "Champagne Music" popularized by maestro Lawrence
Welk whose television show ran for 27 years after its coast-to-coast
network debut in July 1955 on ABC.
- Resurrected by PBS in 1987,
it continues as one of public televisions top-rated shows.
- Born in 1903 to an immigrant
farming family in North Dakota, Welks musical journey began
with mastery of his fathers treasured accordion.
- Survived by his wife of 61
years, Fern, until her death last February at age 98, Welk died
May 17, 1992, nearly 10 years to the day of the Toledo concert.
- "His show was almost
like a ministry to all the millions of people that have watched
it over the years," said Farrell who regularly appeared
on the show with her husband, singer Ron Anderson. Farrell came
up with the vocal charts and arrangements for "Wunnerful"
and will sing and play piano.
- " The Lawrence
Welk Show has been much maligned and laughed at through
the years," Farrell said in a phone interview from her Nashville
- The Welk show was known as
much for sparkling musicianship as it was for its corny humor
and squeaky-clean appeal.
- "Nobody liked it except
the American public," Farrell said.
- Some people think the Lawrence
Welk fans have "died off," Barber said in a telephone
interview from her Knoxville home, "but we get a lot of
young people in the audience, believe it or not."
- Already enjoying local success
as a Tennessee-based country vocalist, Barber joined the Welk
show after she and her husband, Roger, sent Welk an audition
tape. He responded by inviting her to meet him at a Nashville
golf tournament in which he was participating.
- In October, 1973, Welk had
Barber, who had never been out of Tennessee, flown to California,
where, after waiting out a nerve-wracking industry strike she
finally made her debut on national television at age 19. She
remained with the show until network production ended in 1982.
- Metzger joined the Welk show
in 1970. A vocalist and gifted dancer, Metzger handles the shows
staging and choreography.
- With a background in theater
dating to childhood, she had a hand in the 1990 founding of Actors
Conservatory Ensemble, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, producing
- In recent years, she has
been involved in producing many stage and video projects. For
the past four years she has produced the Christmas shows for
the Welk Resort in Escondido, Calif., and she has crusaded tirelessly
nationwide in support of public television.
- In a musical highlight set
for the Toledo performance, Barber is joined by Farrell and English
for an old country song titled "Silver Threads and Golden
Needles." Barber will also lead audience participation bits
and serve up some improvised humor.
- "I sort of wing the
comedy," Barber said, "and the people laugh, believe
it or not."
- Also on tap are a medley
of "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful,"
"Sunny Side of the Street" and a collaboration by Farrell,
Metzger and English on "Boogie, Woogie Bugle Boy."
- "We have a few numbers
that we are adding for this Toledo show," said English who
appeared regularly on the Welk show in a vocal duet act with
her former husband, Guy Hovis.
- "We are going to do
the old arrangement of Mr. Sandman," English
said. The song by the Chordettes hit the charts in 1954. English
will also sing her signature tune, "How Great Thou Art."
- "We are doing a lot
of numbers together," Farrell said of "4 Wunnerful
- "There is a lot of production
in this show, where we interact and sing together and sit on
stools and reminisce."
- Barber said the women didnt
know how things were going to work out when the "4 Wunnerful
Women" first performed together in a McAllen, Texas, venue
early last year.
- The entertainers are still
grooming and critiquing their performance.
- "I think in the beginning
we went out and we each did more of our act and then did our
things together," Barber said. "Now, were trying
to put everybody all through the show, plus do our group things.
Im really proud of it."
- The format was inspired by
the late 1970s "Four Girls Four" collaboration of Rosemary
Clooney, Rose Marie, Helen OConnell and Margaret Whiting,
- "Probably about 10 years
ago, up to about 1992, I was traveling around the country doing
shows with some people from the Welk show, and in every venue
we would play we would either be following them ("Four Girls
Four") or they would be ahead of us.
- "I had met Rosemary
Clooney and worked with her before, so I got this idea that maybe
four of us from the (Welk) show would get together at some point
- Not long after English floated
the idea past Metzger and Barber, Roger booked the act in Texas.
- "So we had to pull this
together real quick," English said. "I wasnt
intending for it to go right away, but it is happening and we
are having so much fun. Its absolutely a real joy to be
working with these women."
- For Farrell, "Wunnerful"
is a chance to showcase her keyboard skills, something she was
rarely able to do on the Welk show.
- For Barber, the show keeps
her in touch with other members of the "musical family,"
a notion whose true meaning did not strike her until production
ended and she returned to Tennessee after eight years on the
- "I think we have a lot
of people who kind of get lifted up by our show," English
- "They feel the warmth
thats there and the love thats there between us.
- "I dont think
Lawrence Welk himself even knew what he was creating when he
called it his "musical family." But it truly is; we
truly are a musical family."
- IF YOU GO:
- WHAT: "4 Wunnerful Women,"
featuring "Lawrence Welk Show" stars, Ava Barber, Ralna
English, Gail Farrell and Mary Lou Metzger.
- WHEN: 3 p.m. May 19, Toledo,
Ohio, and 3 p.m. May 20, Mount Pleasant.
- WHERE: Toledo Valentine
Theatre, Superior at Adams streets, downtown; Mount Pleasant
Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort, 6800 Soaring Eagle Blvd.
- ADMISSION: Toledo
$20-$40, 1-419-242-2787; Mount Pleasant $27, 1-800-585-3737.