Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Guest Concert Review: Bowzer's Rock And Doo-Wop Party

There are 7,250 people in the Arena at Mohegan! The biggest crowd so far for Bowzer’s FOUR HOUR SHOW! To review in detail would take more time than you have to read it and would cross the line from short story to documentary. So, I’ll give you the nutshell version and HERE WE GO!  

Rocky and the Rollers take the stage in their red and black bowling shirts and musically bring Bowzer out in his jeans, black rolled sleeve T-shirt and slicked back hair. Can you imagine the disappointment upon searching HIS luggage? WHAT??? JUST A CASE FULL OF BLACK SHIRTS AND JEANS? Bowzer had a hip replacement last April and is back pacing the stage and entertaining this large crowd with current event jokes and memories we love to hear.

JOEY DEE is the initial act, rocking his candy cane red suit and knocking out ‘Let’s Twist’ with us. He slows down the pace (“because I have to”) with ‘What Kind of Love is This?’ and then goes to ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’ and ‘Peppermint Twist’. The last song is, of course, the one he wrote to memorialize The Peppermint Lounge in NYC. I always felt cheated that I was WAY too young to frequent any of the 60’s clubs, but having never attended, I can glorify them in my mind as something they probably never were.

THE DUBS, still featuring original founder Cleveland Still, come out and start with ‘Don’t Ask Me To Be Lonely’. The bass singer (I believe is Leslie Anderson) has a strong dramatic pulse that holds these Doo-Wop numbers together with a strength that surprises. ‘Chapel of Dreams’ and ‘Could This Be Magic’ are also strong and carry the show forward in a tight unit of joy and promise. Bernard Jones and Spider Truesdale are the other two members completing the foursome. I am a sucker for Doo-Wop love harmonies. They are timeless.

BOWZER’S time to re-introduce his classical piano training with Chopin’s Etude in B Major and Bumble Boogie. Yes, a bit of diversity here before THE STINGRAYS join him to introduce old pal JOHNNY CONTARDO of Sha Na Na.  ‘Blue Moon’, ‘Runaway’, ‘Those Magic Changes’ from Grease, and ‘Lovers Never Say Good-bye’ fill the arena with vigor and vitality before we start ‘Twisting the Night Away,’ doing the ‘Hand Jive’ and finally ‘Shout!’  A well-planned rest comes next and we can focus on the melodic and lyrical songs of SHIRLEY ALSTON REEVES AND THE SHIRELLES.

Any of my previous reviews of Shirley and her girls show an obvious affinity for this group, their costumes and their flowing movements. Still gracious and charming, they bring forth talent with ‘Mama Said,’ ‘Baby It’s You,’ ‘Tonight’s The Night,’ ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ and the roaring ‘Soldier Boy.’  'Soldier Boy'  is roaring because we make it so, chiming in with such gusto that it feels as though that Soldier Boy is just leaving us now instead of “over 20 years ago.”  This being one of only a few performing girl groups, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ was chorused by almost every woman at the show. Hmmmm. So that feeling and that experience belongs to each of us, huh? I don’t feel so awkward anymore. And once again music is a common factor for us all.  

JACKIE WILSON??? OK, that just cannot be …. BUT it IS BOBBY BROOKS WILSON, Jackie’s son. I was told that if I closed my eyes, I would think it really is Jackie returned to us. However, luckily I kept my eyes open because his moves are direct genetic gifts and the trademark spins and Jello leg moves make his set worth the watch. This is his first appearance in a Bowzer show and the crowd loves him. ‘That’s Why (I Love You So),’ ‘Lonely Teardrops,' ‘Someone Cares, Someone Shares,’ ‘To Be Loved’ and ‘Higher and Higher’ performed with his back-up group are stunning. I wanted to cry in remembrance of his dad.

JAY SIEGEL AND THE TOKENS close the first act. WHEW!! This could be an entire show right up to this point! Before anyone questions it, YES my favorite song is ‘Portrait of My Love’ and it was the third song performed. I have talked about this song so often people have started repeating my adoration back to me when they see me. NOT sorry. Along with ‘Tonight I Fell In Love,’ ‘Please Write’ and ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,’ Jay, Bill Reid and Kurt Yahjian vocalize in those harmonies that melt the heart. Jay Siegel and Neil Sedaka are two of the founders of The Tokens group, and a recurring joke from this show was to look around to see if Neil had shown up yet. Never did.  Kurt gives a moving tribute to Jay as his “boss” and mentor and relates some of the productions Jay was involved with:  Tony Orlando, The Chiffons, The Happenings and several others. Just more evidence of music pulling people together.
GARY U.S. BONDS, with the backing voices of his wife and daughter, opens Act 2. We’ve just got to go down to ‘New Orleans.’  The 1960 hit starts his set with a roar and continues with a 60’s medley of ‘Twist Twist Senora,’ ‘School Is Out’ and ‘Dear Lady Twist.’  Gary just turned 80 years young but denies that these may be his golden years. I can only comment on his performance, which is wild for anyone, let alone someone who has turned 80! Moving into the 1980’s (seems appropriate) we hear ‘This Little Girl (is Mine)’ and ‘Angelyne.’  He leaves the stage smokin’ and all of us up dancing with his last song and the acknowledgement of his family behind him. This may be only the second time I have seen Gary in live performance, but I got more vocal power and stage strength than I was expecting.

LOU CHRISTIE, the ultimate solo entertainer, struts out in a black sequin shirt that catches the lights and flashes spontaneously throughout his set. It is the first time he has worn it and he’s worried it’s not flashy enough. Not a problem, Lou. I could almost reach for sunglasses, but my seat is at a good angle not to be blinded. The rest of the audience seems to appreciate it as well. The opening number must be ‘I'm Gonna Make You Mine’ as a statement of his goal at every show. Yes, bring us in and claim us as entranced and enthralled. The hits medley: ‘The Gypsy Cried,’ ‘Two Faces Have I’ and ‘Rhapsody in the Rain’ is followed by the gorgeous flow of ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon.’  This is the song of we eternal optimists who always envision that better CAN be ours and IS on the horizon. Ending with ‘Lightning Strikes,’ the “big one,” brings people to their feet even though this show has now crossed well over the three hour mark.  

How can we end this? Bowzer brings it home with a RESURRECTION! The resurrection of KENNY VANCE.  

KENNY VANCE AND THE PLANATONES also means that Johnny Gale is in the house. I have always been fascinated by his stage presence. Long legs outstretched, slinking around, appearing at a microphone to add harmonies and slithering away. Love it. Kenny came back to the stage two years ago, but I call tonight his resurrection because he and his group have developed a sharp, intense harmonic show that is better than, I bet,  even he thought possible. He has worked hard and it shows. Jimmy Bense and Ladd Vance (Kenny’s son) each take a turn at lead vocals, which only makes this a stronger team. It takes nothing away from Kenny, whose voice has become stronger with a clear sharp tone over these two years.  I count ten songs, but my favorite remembrances are: ‘Let It Be,’ ‘She Cried,’ ‘Come A Little Bit Closer,’ ‘Cara Mia,’ ‘In The Still of The Night,’  ‘My Angel Baby’ and the finale of ‘Looking For An Echo.’  OK, I really loved them all and thought I was cutting down on words by not listing every one. However, it didn’t shorten this by much, did it?  

BOWZER AND THE STINGRAYS end the day into night with ‘Goodnight Sweetheart.’  Next year is the 20th year of Bowzer’s show and he has promised surprises that will include the reappearance of The Brooklyn Bridge and more he refused to divulge. So January 17, 2021 at 3:00 PM come prepared to settle in and be wowed as you crunch snacks and jump up and down dancing.

I need to go home and rest.
Shelley J Sweet-Tufano

Watch for ANOTHER Shelley Sweet-Tufano concert review TOMORROW in Forgotten Hits!