As we wait in the spacious lobby of Deal Park, NJ’s gorgeous Axelrod PAC on June 28, 2017 for a nostalgic concert featuring Jay Siegel’s Tokens and Shirley Alston Reeves of The Shirelles, we strike up a conversation with Susan from Passaic.
Susan, now in her 70s, tells us she knew The Shirelles when she was a teenager at Passaic High School.
“I remember hearing The Shirelles sing at high school assemblies,” recalls Susan.
“A girl at Passaic High School introduced the singers to her mom, Florence Greenberg — who formed a record company — and that’s how The Shirelles got their start,” explains Susan.
“I follow a lot of the doo wop groups,” she continues, “and I love them all — The Shirelles, The Tokens, Larry Chance, the DuPrees, and Kenny Vance. I go to as many shows as I can, and I’m usually in the front row — all in all, it’s a small doo wop world!”
As we make our way into the beautiful Axelrod PAC theater, we see concert patrons — most in their 50s, 60s, and 70s — greeting one another, waving to friends, and comparing notes regarding various performing artists they’ve recently seen and heard.
Some are taking group photos of friends and family members as they join together for this evening of nostalgic music from the 1960s. Others have their phones out, sharing images of their children and grandkids with one another.
As we wait for the show to begin, it occurs to us that so many music lovers have come to this beautiful modern theater with its high tech sound and lights in order to be transported back to a time of innocence and youth.
The stage is set with soft purple lights illuminating a drum set, a rack of keyboards, and a guitar, all waiting for musicians to start playing them.
Soon, we hear an electric bass softly warming up, and notice audience members smiling, several waving to musicians as they take the stage.
Axelrod CEO Jess Levy welcomes the crowd in his friendly style saying “We are excited to kick off our summer concert series. It’s showtime! Are you ready to rock and roll?,” at which point, he introduces the audience to Shirley Alston Reeves of the Shirelles.
Accompanied by back-up singers, Iris Lammers and Madelyn Morris, and a quartet of musicians on keyboards, drums, bass, and guitar, Alston Reeves, 76, takes the stage running with “Shake It.” Looking and sounding sharp, Alston Reeves proves why — as the lead singer of The Shirelles— she had a career filled with so many hit records. As the band rocks, she and the back-up vocalists shake it to the music as they sing.
Moving on to The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron,” Alston Reeves invites the audience to sing along. Then, she and her musical colleagues mix things up with a medley of tunes from a time gone by. Numbers in this medley include Ben E. King and The Drifters’ “Up On the Roof,” “This Magic Moment,” and “Stand By Me”; Sam Cooke’s “Cupid,” “What a Wonderful World This Would Be,” and “Chain Gang”; and The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” The easy flow of these classic tunes fills the bodies and souls of the perpetual teenagers in the crowd and they show their appreciation by singing and swaying along.
Alston Reeves asks if there are any “newlyweds” in the audience. When she recieves no affirmative response, she dedicates her next number “to all the oldie-weds” in the crowd! Singing The Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love,” heads sway to the beat of this simple yet catchy tune.
Moving on to The Shirelle’s own 1961 Top 5 hit, “Mama Said,” the trio shakes their fingers at the audience to punctuate Mama’s warning, “Mama said there’ll be days like this!”
After a terrific performance of the Burt Bacharach-penned 1961 Top 10 hit by The Shirelles, “Baby It’s You,” Alston Reeves jokes, “I wrote this next song, but I forgot the year… ‘cuz I’m so old!” With that, she performs “Tonight’s the Night,” a 1960 hit for the group, recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
Audience members seem particularly delighted when Alston Reeves and company perform The Shirelles’ 1963 Top 5 hit, “Foolish Little Girl.” Then, they launch into their rendition of their 1962 Doris Day remake, “Everybody Loves a Lover,” picking up the tempo as concert goers dance in their seats and Shirley and the gals dance onstage.
Alston Reeves tells the audience, “Carole King wrote this next tune for The Shirelles,” joking, “so if you happen to see her, tell her I need another song!” With the audience singing along, the group performs their 1961 million-seller, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” At the conclusion, the crowd cheers, and Shirley wipes away tears as she thanks the audience.
Announcing, “This next song is for all the soldier boys and girls in the audience,” Alston Reeves speaks the lyrics to the crowd so they can join in singing on The Shirelles’ biggest hit, 1962’s “Soldier Boy.” At the end, the singers surprise the audience by performing their own version of a kick line.
Following huge applause, Alston Reeves confesses, “People ask me, ‘Shirley, do you ever do any ‘up-to-date’ songs?,” going on to answer, “This is my most ‘up-to-date’ — and favorite — song.” Here, she performs a soulful rendition of Al Green’s “I’ll Be Around.”
After audience members cheer, Alston Reeves says, “Don’t just sit there!” before performing a dance medley of hits including Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and two Elvis Presley hits — “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Hound Dog.” As Alston Reeves and the rest of the gang perform, audience members start twisting to the rockin’ band and then start shakin’ it, bringing the crowd to its feet as Shirley and her colleagues dance to the invigorating music!
For their rollicking performance, the audience rewards Shirley Alston Reeves and company with a standing ovation!
But the audience clearly wants to hear more music. And as luck would have it, there is virtually no stop in the action as, in just moments, personnel changes are made and Jess Levy once again takes the stage — this time, to introduce Jay Siegel’s Tokens.
Making their entrance in elegant white jackets, Siegel, 77, and the group open their set with their 1961 #1 hit “Tonight I Fell In Love.”
Sounding as fresh as ever, audience members’ hands clap as the singers effortlessly switch up to their falsetto voices and back to their full chest voices, all to the delight and amazement of the crowd.
Siegel takes the microphone and tells a story about attending Lincoln High School in Brooklyn NY where he formed his group, The Tokens, a combo which, he says, “in its early years, included Neil Sedaka.”
Siegel and the guys launch into “the ‘B’ Side of the ‘Tonight I Fell in Love’ 45 rpm record,” “I’ll Always Love You,” for the cheering crowd.
Informing the excited fans that “dancing in the aisles is allowed!” audience members happily comply and the Axelrod PAC theater is transformed into a 60’s-era high school dance with Jay Siegel and The Tokens on the bandstand rockin’ out on Dion’s “Runaround Sue.” As dancers show one another their latest moves, the band’s keyboardist jams, and audience members joyfully sing along.
Following avid applause, Siegel talks about how — despite the “British invasion of music in the 1960s” — The Tokens still managed to earn a third gold record with their 1967 hit, “Portrait of My Love.”
Putting the crowd in a nostalgic mood for more ’60s music, Jay and The Tokens perform an outstanding arrangement of The Temptations’ smash Motown hit, “My Girl.” As intricate harmonies fill the auditorium with glorious sound, the audience sings along on the ubiquitous “hey, hey, hey” lyric.
Siegel introduces his fellow Tokens beginning with Kurt “Frenchy” Yahjian, whom he reveals appeared in the movies Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, and was also a member of Kenny Vance and the Planotones. Siegel also introduces Bill Reid who sang backup on Barry Mann’s doo wop hit, “Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp Bomp Bomp)” and additionally sang with the vocal group, The Halos.
Moving on a soulful version of “She Cried,” The Tokens’ sound envelopes the audience with the deep sadness of lost love showing the talented singers’ power and feeling.
Siegel takes a moment to explain how he became a record producer in the 1960s and ’70s, auditioning new artists and songwriters and matching them up to create hits, just as he did in the case of two groups — The Happenings and The Chiffons.
Here, he, “Frenchy,” and Bill perform a medley of hits Jay produced including The Happenings’ “See You in September” and The Chiffons’ “One Fine Day.”
Featuring energetic vocals, rockin’ bass and guitar playing, and a drummer hitting it right on the mark, Jay and The Tokens delight the audience with their lively sound.
After introducing several friends in the Axelrod crowd who traveled all the way from Barcelona, Spain to the Jersey Shore to hear tonight’s concert, Jay promises the audience that “with each song you sing along on, you will feel younger.”
The audience eagerly takes his advice and joyously sings along on such classic tunes as The Rays’ “Silhouettes,” The Penguins’ “Earth Angel,” and Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” the crowd responding to Jay as he croons “Darling, you…” with a resounding “…send me,” each time it comes around in the song.
“You’re looking younger already!” acknowledges Jay.
Moving on to such classic musical fare as Robert and Johnny’s “We Belong Together,” Johnnie and Joe’s “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea,” and Don and Juan’s “What’s Your Name,” the audience finishes the last number with a flourish singing, “Shooby-doo-bop-bah-dah!”
Then, to really ramp things up, the guys perform Del Shannon’s “The Wanderer,” featuring lively guitar and keyboard solos, and continue by seguing into a rendition of Curtis Lee’s “Pretty Little Angel Eyes.”
Taking a moment to get serious, Siegel and the group slow things down to perform a tune which Jay says “was written in the ’60s, but is appropriate now.” Here, he dedicates The Tokens’ song, “Please Write,” to all who currently serve — or who have ever served — in the United States military.
According to Siegel, when he was a teenager growing up in Brighton Beach, NY, he and his friends would spend their summers singing doo wop in neighborhood harmony groups. At the age of 16, he and his buddies happened to hit upon a version of a traditional song which they could perform so well it would enable them to impress all the other vocal groups but, most importantly, would enable him and the boys in his group to “get all the girls.”
Six years later, Siegel and the Tokens released a recording of this song which, in 1961, went on to reach #1 in countries all over the world, and also became a worldwide hit again 40 years later after being featured in Disney’s film, The Lion King.
Jay and the guys go on to perform this song in its original key — proving that Jay still has the voice and tone of a 16-year-old, despite his silver hair — while the entire Axelrod audience sings the memorable “wimoweh” backup vocal on The Tokens’ global hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
Following a well-deserved standing ovation, audience members can be heard happily humming the famous “In the jungle, the mighty jungle…” melody as they make their way out of the theater!
In the lobby, we chat with several audience members who tell us about their experiences here at the Axelrod PAC this evening.
First, we catch up again with Susan from Passaic — whom we met earlier — who tells us, “This show was fantastic,” adding, “Jay Siegel? That voice!”
Bobbie from The Bronx asserts, “We loved it. We knew all the words..” before noting, “…and Jay Siegel’s still got it!”
Priscilla from Brooklyn comments, “I thought it was phenomenal. Jay Siegel is such an entertainer. It was beyond — just over the top!”
Priscilla’s friend, Beth from Bradley Beach exclaims, “It was amazing! I can really relate to this music — it makes me feel like I’m 17 again. I would see this show again tomorrow!”
Going on to further note, “You don’t know what to expect when a group is older, Beth exclaims, “but they were great. In fact, I can’t go home and go to sleep now — it was so exhilarating!”
We also take a moment to chat with three friends — Diane, Shelley, and Sherri — who came together as a group to see tonight’s show.
Diane from Manalapan calls this concert, “Fabulous,” commenting, “we don’t ever want this music to disappear!”
Shelley from the Bronx, agrees, going on to note, “The Tokens are so talented and so personable!”
Sherri from Manalapan additionally adds, “Shirley Alston Reeves was so good. We were seated in the middle of a row — so we couldn’t dance in the aisle — but we wanted to!”
Noting, “This was a great girl’s night out for the three of us to roll back the years and reminisce,” Sherri concludes by exclaiming, “This concert was off the charts!”
For more information on Shirley Alston Reeves, see Shirley Alton Reeves on Facebook. To learn more about Jay Siegel and The Tokens, please go to jaysiegelandthetokens.com. For further information about upcoming performances at Axelrod PAC — including The Hit Men on July 20 and Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Siegel on August 30 — please go to axelrodartscenter.com.Photos by Love Imagery
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