Welk Show brings back memories of happier times
by Hope Ullman, The Herald-Sun, Durham, North Carolina
Friday, February 28, 2003

"Goodnight...sleep tight...and pleasant dreams to you." While times have changed since "The Lawrence Welk Show" debuted in 1951, its wholesome brand of entertainment never went out of style for millions of fans.
The family-friendly musical variety show airs on 277 public TV stations nationwide, drawing 225 million viewers each week.
Folks can catch that old Welk magic tonight, when "The 'Live' Lawrence Welk Show" swings into the Carolina Theatre, on its third coast-to-coast tour.
The tour will celebrate the 100th birthday of Welk, who lived from 1903 to 1992.
While the show's innocence may seem at odds with today's tumultuous times, that is part of its appeal. The show went national in 1955 and, while the last weekly series was taped in 1982, Christmas shows were produced every year until 1987.
"One of the reasons the show survived [so long] is because it's familiar and it takes us back to a gentler, more peaceful, carefree time in America," said singer Ralna English, one of six original cast members performing at the show. "When people watch it now, they feel comfort and security."
Susie Dowdy, national publicist for "The Lawrence Welk Show," agrees. "People take comfort in nostalgia," she said. "You can only watch so much news, so much CNN. This offers kind of an island, a safe place. The costumes are bright and people are smiling. It's just a happy show."
Recalling a gentler era when families gathered around the television for good, clean fun, the two-hour show will deliver song, dance and humor, with a musical mix of patriotic, gospel, country, jazz, Dixieland, polka, big-band and Broadway tunes.
"He wanted to please the American people, and we're a very diversified bunch," English said, of Welk, who played the accordion and conducted the orchestra.
Tonight's live show will pay tribute to Welk, who would have turned 100 in March. Born to immigrant parents on March 11, 1903, in a sod farmhouse in North Dakota, Welk set out on his own at 21, with little more than an accordion and a dream. He had no money and spoke only German. But nothing could stop him from giving America the caliber of family entertainment and music he believed in. Along the way, he created an extended family of cast members, and fans, who passed along their love of the show.
Cast members will sign autographs during intermission and after tonight's show, an unusual thing for stars to do in this day and age.
It's a tradition they picked up from Welk, who always prided himself and his musical "family" in personally answering fan mail and signing autographs.
"It's kept the show on for 51 years - taking a personal interest in the fans," Dowdy said.
English will perform alongside fellow original cast members from the weekly TV series: tap-dancing and marimba playing Jack Imel; Welk's favorite dance partner, Mary Lou Metzger; country gal Ava Barber; jazz clarinetist Henry Cuesta; and saxophonist and crooner Dick Dale.
Also appearing, direct from the Champagne Theatre in Branson, Mo., are The Champagne Music Makers ( a nine-piece touring version of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra); accordion player Tim Padilla (who, Dowdy said, resembles a young Lawrence Welk); Russian dancers Pasha and Aliona; and the famous bubble-blowing machine, which used to spring into action when the orchestra played.


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