Live Lawrence Welk Show arrives in Escondido
PAM KRAGEN
Staff Writer, North County Times, Escondido, CA
March 13, 2003

If Lawrence Welk were alive today, he would have celebrated his 100th birthday on Tuesday.
 
The television bandleader passed away in 1992 at the age of 89, but his spirit lives on with continued broadcasts of his long-running TV show, two resorts in his name, and a live touring stage show that arrives in Escondido on March 13.
 
"The Live Lawrence Welk Show" features original cast members from Welk's television show, including singer Ralna English, marimba player/tap dancer Jack Imel, dancer Mary Lou Metzger, country singer Ava Barber, jazz clarinetist Henry Cuesta, singer/musician Dick Dale and the Russian dance team of Pash and Aliona. Backing them up will be the Lawrence Welk Orchestra and accordionist Tim Padilla. The program will resemble a typical episode of Welk's weekly television show and will include a special video tribute to Welk. Cast members will sign autographs at intermission.
 
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"The Live Lawrence Welk Show"
When: 7 p.m. March 13
Where: California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido
Tickets: $37.50-$59.50
Info: (800) 988-4253
 
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The South Dakota-born bandleader and accordionist hosted his prime-time variety show from 1955 to 1971, and the program is still seen in weekly reruns on PBS stations. A new "God Bless America" special featuring many of the "Welk Show" regulars debuted this month on PBS, and the live touring show is now in the middle of a six-week, 25-city U.S. tour.
Tour star English, who was a regular on the Welk show during its final two years, said audience response to the tour has been "phenomenal."
 
"We've sold out several shows, we're getting standing ovations everywhere we go, and we've gotten great comments from the people in the audience. This sort of entertainment never goes out of style," English said in a phone interview from her hotel in Salt Lake City on Monday. That morning, Welk's son, Larry, and his daughter, Donna, as well as many surviving stars from the show were flying into Salt Lake for a star-studded birthday bash Tuesday evening. Similar birthday celebrations were planned Tuesday at the Lawrence Welk Resorts near Escondido and in Branson, Mo.
 
English said she's not surprised that Welk's legacy lives on 11 years after his death. In fact, she expects that Welk's name will continue to be synonymous with entertainment for generations to come.
 
"Mr. Welk did something that no one else did," English said. "He came at a time when big bands were past their peak and rock was coming in. He had the only big band on television, and people were drawn to that. And even in this time of rap and hip-hop music today, the traditional music that he presented is still alive. Some things never go out of style, as long as they're done right."
 
English said the element that drew viewers to Welk's television show was the family atmosphere it fostered, both on air and at home.
 
"For everybody that's been involved with the TV show all these years, there's a real sense of family, and the show was also the kind of thing that families could watch together. People could pop up their popcorn or get up and dance in front of the television when they watched it. It's a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation," she said.
 
English, who recently released a new gospel/patriotic album "My God, My Country," said that Welk traditionally closed his live shows with a performance of "God Bless America," but for this tour an entire section of the program will be devoted to patriotic music.
 
This isn't just because the nation will soon be at war but because Welk was such a patriotic American. Born on a remote South Dakota farm to German-speaking parents who emigrated from Alsace, Lorraine, Welk rose to fame and wealth by sheer pluck and hard work.
 
"He was able to achieve the American dream himself, and he was very grateful to have the opportunity," English said. "He was very proud to be an American."
 
 

 

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