It’s Friday, April 28, 2017, at 7:55 pm.
Inside Lakewood, NJ’s gorgeous Strand Theater, stage lights illuminate a bandstand filled with gleaming guitars, microphones, keyboards, and drums.
The members of the sold-out audience chat and laugh as they meet old friends from “the neighborhood” and reminisce.
They are all here to Pop, Rock & Doo Wopp the night away to the golden sounds of six classic musical groups: Larry Chance and the Earls, The Angels, Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, The Knockouts, The Crystals, and The Brooklyn Bridge!
Every generation has a canon of songs that define it and, sometimes, these very songs can help to define the next generation too. What brings this group of music afficiandos together tonight is an opportunity to hear — live, by many of the original artists — songs that will be ingrained in their hearts and minds forever, not only because they are great tunes, but because of the great times for which they will always be associated.
The lights dim and master of ceremonies Emil Stucchio — lead singer of the ‘60s-era group The Classics — strolls out onto the stage smiling and saying, “For the next few hours, we can all be teenagers again,” to which the audience heartily applauds.
At this point, Stucchio introduces tonight’s first act, Larry Chance and the Earls!
“Hello,” says Larry, to which the audience whistles and cheers before chanting back an enthusiastic, “Hello!”
Chance and the Earls open the show with a rousing version of their 1963 hit, “Never (Fall in Love Again),” every “no-no-no” bringing good vibrations to the packed crowd and transporting them back to a simpler time.
Moving on to a newer song from 2005, the group performs a bouyant rendition of their very catchy, “A Capella with My Friends,” as the audience claps along. They follow that up with The Earls’ 1962 hit, “Remember Then,” the song’s ubiquitous lyrics, “”Re-meh-meh, re-meh-meh-mem-ber,” lighting up smiles everywhere as audience members tap their toes and sing along.
Using his comedic talents to make the audience laugh, Chance, 76, laments some of the trials and tribulations he’s experienced over the course of his long career while still reliving many of his fondest memories saying, “That’s one good thing about visiting Geezerville!”
Chance and the Earls follow this up with a dynamic vocal performance of the 1963 Ben E. King hit which was later made famous by Tom Jones, “I Who Have Nothing.”
Chance concludes his portion of the program with a tune he says is his “most requested song” — one he dedicates to “all men and women in uniform, especially our Vietnam vets” — his unique rendition of Frankie Laine’s 1953 classic, “I Believe.”
Singing directly from his heart, Earle is rewarded with a rousing standing ovation!
Stucchio returns to the stage to introduce the three original members of the world-reknown female singing group, The Angels — Peggy Santiglia, Barbara “Bibs” Allbut, and Phyllis “Jiggs” Allbut. Opening with The Exciters’ 1962 hit, “Tell Him,” The Angels get the audience’s toes a-tapping, delighting the crowd with their nostalgic sound.
“We are the original Jersey girls,” says Jiggs, who with her sister, Bibs, hail from Orange, NJ. The trio’s lead singer, Peggy, grew up in Belleville.
Immortalized in the Broadway play and movie, Jersey Boys, the group goes on to perform their 1961 Top 20 recording, “Till,” harmonically crooning, “Till the moon deserts the sky/Till all the seas run dry/Till then I’ll worship you.”
Following their 1962 hit, “Cry Baby Cry,” the group performs one of the highlight tunes of the entire evening, The Angels 1963 #1 smash, “My Boyfriend’s Back,” the audience clapping to the syncopated beat and happily singing along with lead singer Peggy Santiglia.
To audience whistles and cheers, The Angels close their portion of the show with a song they reveal, “DJ’s used to close their shows with.” Entitled — appropriately enough — “Thank You and Goodnight” — the crowd thanks The Angels and says goodnight to them with a warm standing ovation.
Stucchio next introduces a “legendary act” which amazingly, he states, produced “35 charted records” — Charlie Thomas and The Drifters.
As the backup band starts to play a familiar accompaniment, the audience claps and Thomas exclaims, “Let’s have a rock and roll party,” before The Drifters launch into a dynamic rendition of their 1963 Top Ten hit, “On Broadway.”
Changing the famous lyric to “They say the girls are somethin’ else in Jersey,” the audience beams, enjoying this group that proves that even after over 60 years, they still have the voices and moves to sing and dance their way into everyone’s hearts.
Moving on to a song which was originally recorded in 1960 by The Drifters featuring Ben E. King, Thomas and the boys perform a scintillating rendition of “This Magic Moment,” the crowd hoping their rendition will last “forever till the end of time.”
Next up is the group’s 1960 #1 smash, “Save the Last Dance For Me.” The packed house sings along so well that group leader Charlie Thomas exclaims, “Please don’t let it die!”
The quartet follows that up with their 1962 Top 5 hit written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, “Up On the Roof,” with the crowd still singing along — until they start hollering when the quartet breaks into a precision dance routine, sliding across the stage and shaking it!
Following a standing ovation, Charlie Thomas, 80, makes the crowd chuckle when he informs them, “I’m trying to get a new hit record out.”
Hearing a certain famous bass line elicits excited whoops and hollers from the crowd as Charlie and group perform their 1964 Top 5 single — one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time — “Under the Boardwalk.”
Singing along with Charlie, the Jersey Shore crowd rises to its feet in appreciation for a lifetime of wonderful musical memories!
Following a short intermission, Pop, Rock & Doo Wopp concert producer Joseph Mirrione surprises master of ceremonies Emil Stucchio by introducing a special guest on to the stage — Stucchio’s partner in The Classics, Al Contrera.
With Stucchio on lead vocals and Mirrione and Contrera on backup vocals, the impromptu trio goes on to perform a stunning rendition of The Classics 1963 Top 20 hit, “Till Then,” the audience responding with heartfelt cheers and applause!
Stucchio next introduces a group which he says had a “cult record” in 1959, The Knockouts. The duo — currently from Toms River — opens the show with a bang performing a rockin’ version of Joe Tex’s “Show Me (A Man Who’s Got a Good Woman).”
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Following up with such varied fare as “There’s a Place For Us” from West Side Story and a Jimmy Durante imitation of “Start Off Each Day with a Song,” The Knockouts knock out the audience with their commanding performance of Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise.” The audience happily rocks and sings along on the song’s ubiquitous “Oo-ee, oo-ee baby/Won’t ya let me take you on a sea cruise” chorus!
The group concludes their spunky set with their 1959 hit, “Darling Lorraine,” the audience singing and swinging on this classic doo-wop number, rising to their feet acknowledging the energy and talent of this entertaining duo.
Stucchio returns to introduce The Crystals, who light up the stage in orange chiffon and sequins. Opening up with their 1963 Top 5 smash, the group — Melissa “MelSoulTree” Grant, Dee Dee Kenniebrew, and Patricia Prichett Lewis — gets the audience’s heads bobbing along to their spirited rendition of “Da Doo Ron Ron.”
Moving on to their 1963 Top Ten hit, “Then He Kissed Me,” the trio’s precision vocals — along with the vintage twangy guitar effect — bring the audience back to the sounds of the early ’60s.
Founding member Dee Dee Kenniebrew tells the audience that The Crystals originally started as “five girls from Brooklyn” who formed a group when they were just “fourteen through seventeen” years of age. Going on to what Kenniebrew calls “a song about a dream,” the women perform their 1962 Top 20 hit, “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.”
Informing the crowd, “We love to dance!” The Crystals invite the audience to clap their hands over their heads and “make some noise” for their upbeat rendition of The Dixie Cups’ 1964 smash, “Chapel of Love.”
The women follow this up with the audience clapping, tapping, dancing, and having fun to their snappy version of Fontella Bass’ 1965 R&B classic, “Rescue Me.”
Concluding their set with a song which founding member Dee Dee Kenniebrew calls “our very first number one,” the crowd claps and sings along with The Crystals as they perform their 1962 chart-topper, “He’s a Rebel.”
As a result of the group’s performance — which includes a display of the incredible five-octave range of singer Melissa “MelSoulTree” Grant — The Crystals have the crowd on its feet!
Then — going on to perform an encore for the history books — The Crystals invite The Angels to join them on stage to sing a Motown medley featuring Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and The Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There.”
As the audience whistles and cheers, Stucchio introduces the final performers of the evening — The Brooklyn Bridge. Opening with a ‘shoop-shoop-de-doop” rendition of “My Juanita,” the band immediately gets the audience clapping along. Moving on to a rockin’ version of “Lonely Teardrops,” the crowd joyfully joins in echoing the famous “Say you will” refrain.
Announcing to the audience, “In 1969, we had a double-sided hit record,” The Brooklyn Bridge first performs “Blessed is the Rain,” before following that up with the flip-side of their 45rpm single, “Welcome Me Love,” complete with cascading chords and super-tight vocal harmonies.
Slowing things down, the group performs “My Prayer,” featuring Joe Esposito, who pays homage to former Brooklyn Bridge lead singer, Johnny Maestro, when he says, “I could never replace Johnny Maestro but I can honor him.” The guys follow that with an upbeat rendition of the Tina Turner classic, “River Deep Mountain High.”
The entire audience joins in on The Brooklyn Bridge’s masterful take on Johnny Maestro and The Crests’ “Sixteen Candles,” and the group follows that up with their dynamic version of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” the crowd cheering wildly before the song is even over.
Concluding the Pop, Rock & Doo Wopp show for the night, The Brooklyn Bridge gives it their all on their 1969 Top 5 smash written by Jimmy Webb, “The Worst That Could Happen,” the entire crowd cheering on its feet!
Following the performance, we get an opportunity to chat with several members of the audience, who give us their opinions on this lively and nostalgic presentation.
Vinnie from Jackson says, “I’m so happy to be a part of this! The show is a lot of fun and it brings back a lot of memories. I grew up in Brooklyn, and it brings me right back to my younger days spent at Coney Island. It’s great to see all these people here reliving their youth with a real spring in their step!”
Vinnie’s son Michael agrees, exclaiming, “This show is great,” telling us his favorite performers tonight were The Drifters, about whom he reveals, “they killed it!”
Vinnie’s wife, Chris — also “a huge fan of the music” — notes that her personal favorite on the bill tonight was the outstanding performance by The Brooklyn Bridge.
We also get a chance to chat with two youngsters in the audience, Michael, 14, and Thomas, 12, from Barnegat, who came to the concert tonight with their father and grandfather.
“I think we might be the youngest ones here!” exclaims Michael proudly.
Michael tells us he is a fan of Dion — the first person whom he says he’s ever seen live in concert. When Michael’s mom found out about tonight’s show at The Strand, Michael reveals he wanted to attend with his family because he likes “the happy, upbeat vibe of the music.” Going on to add, “My dad is a fan of these groups, so I know many of the songs,” Michael admits that his favorite song performed this evening was “Under the Boardwalk”
Michael’s brother, Thomas — also a Dion fan — generally agrees with his older sibling, except for noting, “I liked all of the songs tonight!”
As we make our way back to the Strand lobby, we catch up with Barbara, originally from Newark, and her friend Linda from Toms River.
Barbara says, “These groups sang from the heart. They’re very real and it touches you.”
Linda agrees and echoes her friend’s statements by saying, “I can’t even explain it, but they just bring you in,” before going on to assert, “I wanted to get up and dance the entire time — with this kind of music, I could stay up all night!”
Once we reach the lobby, we get an opportunity to chat with several of tonight’s Pop, Rock & Doo Wopp performers.
First, we catch up with Melissa “MelSoulTree” Grant, vocalist with The Crystals, who tells us a bit about her history with the group.
Explains “Mel,” “Dee Dee has been with The Crystals since the beginning, Pat has been in the trio since 2005, and I’ve been a part of the group since 2002.”
“Mel” who has performed on such movie soundtracks as New Jack City and Semi Pro, is a solo artist in her own right, recording three albums which spotlight her incredible five-octave range. That said, she tells us she’s very happy to be a part of The Crystals where she gets to sing songs like “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “He’s a Rebel” for appreciative audiences everywhere.
We also get a chance to chat with one of the original members of The Brooklyn Bridge, bass player and singer Jimmy Rosica, who talks about the early day’s of the band — specifically their 1968 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show — and he also reminisces about the group’s legendary lead singer Johnny Maestro.
“Being on The Ed Sullivan Show had a major impact on me,” says Rosica.” I was only 21 at the time and that was the show. We were on with Stevie Wonder and it was fun!” Going on to explain, “We played ‘The Worst That Could Happen’ — which we had just released — but once we performed it on that show, it started rising up the charts!”
Not sure audiences would accept the group when they lost their virtuoso lead singer Johnny Maestro in 2010, Rosica is pleased that audiences have come to love their new lead singer, Joe “Beans” Esposito, a major talent in his own right. Esposito is not only known for performing the theme song from TV’s Different Strokes, but for writing tunes like “Bad Girls” for Donna Summer, in addition to composing music for such well-known films as Karate Kid and Flashdance.
With regards to Maestro, Rosica states, “Johnny Maestro was a legendary talent,” before adding, “Me? I’m no virtuoso like Jaco Pastorius, but I can play the bass, and I was there at the right time. I’m proud that I can tell my grandchildren I played and sang on a hit record.”
And in summing up his experience tonight as a Pop, Rock & Doo Wopp performer at The Strand, Rosica exclaims, “Tonight was great! This was a really wonderful audience — I felt they truly embraced us.”
To learn more about future great Pop, Rock & Doo Wopp performances, please go to poprockdoowopp.com. For more information about upcoming shows at The Strand — including Let’s Hang On, A Tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons on August 18, Elvis’ 40th Anniversary Spectacular featuring Richie Santa on August 25, and The Lovin’ Spoonful and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap on October 13 — please check out strand.org.
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