Welk Show was "Wunnerful ! Wunnerful !"
- By DAVID DOW BENTLEY
- "The People's
throughout the East Coast and the Gulf Coast
- Hollywood is about
to release the latest film version of "The Time Machine."
Perhaps it came to the Houston area early in the guise of "The
Lawrence Welk Show," which arrived this past week at the
Verizon Wireless Theater in Bayou Place.
- Conducted by John Baylor,
(husband of one of the famed Lennon Sisters, Janet Lennon) the
show's national tour is a popular favorite on "the Blue
Hair Circuit." The crowd at this performance was full of
old-timers like Montgomery County's own Bob Tabor, eager to hear
the great Big Band sounds of a bygone era. The nicely dressed
audience --- some with wheel chairs and oxygen tanks---would
not be disappointed. Many of the fans were devoted followers
of the late Mr. Welk's weekly television show.
- Even in Welk's absence,
the program continues as Public Broadcasting's most widely syndicated
television show on 276 stations nationwide. (Houston's channel
8 on Saturday's at 5 p.m.)
- With Baylor at the
helm, the fine 12-piece orchestra (dressed in sharp red blazers)
began with Welk's familiar opening theme, accompanied by the
bubble machine that always highlighted the band's signature "Champagne
Music." Sound levels were excellent, and never competed
with the vocalists. With joyous enthusiasm they performed such
numbers as "Say It With Music," "Mexican Cab Driver,"
and a terrific Overture to Act II of the show.
- Featured performers
from the original program came onstage with a rousing "That's
Entertainment." They included:
- a.. Ralna English-
who looked more beautiful than ever, wore stunning outfits, and
sang superbly, even without her former husband and singing partner,
Guy Hovis. Wearing glamorous scarlet chiffon and sparkling jewels,
she wowed the crowd with hits like "Green Eyes" and
"Tangerine," while adding some gentle Latin-style choreography.
With "Wind Beneath My Wings," she demonstrated an impressive
vocal range with glorious high notes. Her smooth and touching
"I'll Be Seeing You" brought tears to my eyes. (The
song has always reminded me of my late father.)
- b.. Ava Barber- the
good-humored Welk "country gal," who opened with a
fun-filled "Y'all Come." A glittering black velvet
blouse did not prevent her from singing better than ever with
songs like "Cry." She sings "Gone At Last"
in black tights and a shimmering, multi-colored shirt that Judy
Garland would have loved. Then, in an elegant, flowered purple
jacket and chic black cowboy boots, she offered a foot stomping
"Rose of San Antone,".
- c.. Henry Cuesta- showed
dazzling control and virtuosity on his clarinet during numbers
like "New Orleans," "Closer Walk With Thee,"
and flawless renditions of Benny Goodman's "Sing! Sing!
Sing!" and Artie Shaw's "Begin the Beguine."
- d.. Jack Imel- offered
still more extraordinary virtuosity while singing, drumming,
tap dancing and performing on marimba. His "Lover"
was superb, and he took flight in the drum segment for "Sing!
Sing! Sing!" But perhaps the highlight of the night was
Imel's extended tour de force tap dancing, while at the same
time performing "Bye Bye Blues" on marimba. If Mr.
Imel is not 80 he must be close. It was astonishing to see the
energy, skill and hilarious comic timing of this near octogenarian!
He stole the show, and the audience roared approval with several
standing ovations. When the near breathless Imel quipped, "This
is the part where I kill myself," one could not help but
worry. But before you could bat an eye, he returned to sing the
poignant "Old Bones," bringing sweet sincerity to lines
like "I love life, I'd like to do it again!"
- e.. Mary Lou Metzger-
also looking and sounding better than ever, joined Imel to sing
and dance "You've Gotta Have Heart." In a pretty white
dress with puff sleeves and rhinestones, she brings the youthfulness
of a college cheerleader to "Everything Old is New Again,"
"Oh, Johnny!" and "Ma, He's Makin' Eyes at Me."
- Other show highlights
included the handsome and brilliant young accordionist, Tim Padilla.
Recently acquired by the band to replace the famed Myron Floren,
Padilla showed his breezy brilliance in a "Dizzy Fingers"
that was technically and artistically wonderful. His "Beer
Barrel Polka" was no less impressive. Joining the boyish
Padilla for the "Waltz of the Flowers" was the group's
Russian Adagio dance team of Pasha and Ilona. In elegant Russian
costumes, the couple gave a twirling performance of "Pennsylvania
Polka" that looked as though it could win Olympic gold.
- Led by Miss English,
the full ensemble performed "God Bless America" in
memory of the events of September 11th. It was a touching conclusion
to a show that touched the hearts of many. One could almost feel
Mr. Welk's presence in the room.
Mr. Bentley's columns are featured in newspapers from the
East Coast to the Gulf Coast.