Although frigid cold air has followed Tom Wopat and Linda Purl on their trip from Michigan to New Jersey this Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, they still manage to warm their devoted fans’ hearts during their “Home for the Holidays” concert at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts in Toms River.
Featuring a sparkling array of holiday classics dressed up in new arrangements, this duo of acclaimed entertainment personalities has the audience snapping their fingers and tapping their toes along to many familiar melodies of the season.
A singer with a string of hits on the country charts, Tom Wopat is best known for playing the part of “Luke” on TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard, in addition to playing roles on Broadway in shows like Annie Get Your Gun, Chicago, 42nd St., Sondheim on Sondheim, and more.
Aside from being an an accomplished vocalist with Broadway productions, live concerts, and solo recording projects to her credit, Linda Purl is also well-known for her TV roles as Fonzie’s girlfriend on Happy Days, Ben Matlock’s daughter on Matlock, and Pam Beesley’s mother on The Office.
Joining forces at Toms River’s Grunin Center, Wopat — dressed in black — and Purl — all decked out in white — open their holiday show with a seasonal TV staple, Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here,” of A Charlie Brown Christmas fame. Accompanied by an instrumental trio on piano, bass, and drums, the two vocalists fill the theater with Christmas charm.
“We played in Michigan last night and it seems their snow storm is following us,” exclaims Wopat as he and Purl go on to perform a jolly version of “Let It Snow.”
Next up is an uplifting rendition of the Nat King Cole classic, “Pick Yourself Up,” Purl singing, “Nothing’s impossible, I have found/For when my chin is on the ground/I pick myself up/Dust myself off/And start all over again.”
After introducing instrumentalists Mark Berman on piano, John Arbo on bass, and Peter Grant on drums, Purl delights the audience telling the story of a long-ago failed Christmas meal, disclosing, “I was having twenty people for dinner at 4pm, but at noon, realized I hadn’t even gotten the turkey ready yet!”
Purl then launches into a medley which features another Nat King Cole classic, “The Christmas Song,” and a tune originally performed by Judy Garland, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Purl poignantly crooning, “Although it’s been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.”
Purl pleases the hometown crowd when she talks about being an “honorary New Jerseyite,” explaining she “lived in Montclair…. and Yogi Berra was my neighbor.” Referencing Berra’s quote, “If there’s fork in the road, take it,” Purl explains that, indeed, there really was a fork in the road on the way to Berra’s home— and both sides of the fork led to Yogi’s house.
Wopat takes his turn up at the microphone when he’s featured on the 1952 Annie Ross vocalese classic, “Twisted,” which he dedicates to a psychologist whom he says helped him through his past difficulties coping with alcoholism.
Then, picking up his guitar, Wopat performs a solo version of an original country song, “Flying,” which he reveals is “all about having a dream that you can fly.”
Referring to his Dukes of Hazzard TV show co-star, John Schneider, Wopat tells the audience, “John and I used to sing this next song together,” as he launches into a solo version of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “On a Quiet Christmas Morn.” He follows that up with a rousing rendition of The Dukes of Hazzard TV theme song, “Good Old Boys,” which, he discloses, was written by Waylon Jennings. He also mentions once having Waylon over to his home for ribs.
Wopat and Purl team up for a Christmas medley of tunes including “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and a jazzy version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Featuring some especially noteworthy instrumental performances by the back-up trio, Wopat exclaims, “Let’s hear it for the band!” and the crowd reacts with warm appreciation for this talented group of musicians.
During intermission, Wopat mysteriously tiptoes onstage whispering, “I’m not here,” as he proceeds to tune his guitar. Ever so softly, he serenades the audience members who have remained in the auditorium, sweetly singing a private version of a song from Broadway’s The Will Rogers Follies. This impromptu performance of “Look Around” creates a truly memorable and intimate moment between Wopat and his most dedicated fans.
Officially opening Act II, Linda Purl enters in a stunning red sparkling gown and she and Wopat exchange lines as the the band saunters along taking everyone in the house on a jaunty “Sleigh Ride.”
Wopat informs the audience that, for him, “home is Wisconsin,” but goes on to add, “home is any sanctuary where you can go to feel safe.” At this point, he leaves his microphone on its stand, takes his place center stage, and sings a lovely unamplified version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Ending with a formal bow as a grand gesture, Wopat thanks the enthusiastic crowd.
Purl steps up to the microphone and talks about the time she and Wopat first performed together. According to Purl, they were originally paired as a duet by former NY Times theater critic Rex Reed in a show called Ira without George, a musical featuring songs with lyrics written by Ira Gershwin after his brother, George, had passed away. At this point, the duo playfully sings a lively tune from that show, “Oh Me, Oh My, Oh You,” an old-fashioned number capable of transporting listeners back to a simpler time.
Wopat introduces Purl’s next solo tune by suggesting how special it is for him each time he hears her sing this song, and he is absolutely correct as it turns out to be the highlight performance of the evening. Standing tall by the piano singing in a simple, straightforward, and elegant style, Purl performs a stunningly beautiful rendition of Rogers and Hart’s classic “My Romance.” As she vocalizes, Mark Berman’s piano playing perfectly adorns Purl’s beautiful rendition of the melody, inspiring the audience to applaud both in the middle of the song and yet again at the end.
Telling the crowd, “This is a duet I’ve done with John Schneider more times than I ever have with a girl,” disclosing, “we’ve had a 40-year ‘bro-mance,’” Wopat and Purl playfully sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” showing true affection for the song as well as for one another.
Explaining that their next tune is a country song by Cole Porter, Wopat picks up his guitar to perform a jazzy, yet countrified version of “Don’t Fence Me In.” As Jon Arbo’s bass walks up and down with a jaunty bass line, Purl and Wopat breezily trade lines such as, “Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze/And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees/Send me off forever but I ask you please/Don’t fence me in.”
Wopat tells the audience, “There is a limited supply of CDs for sale in the lobby” — one featuring John Schneider and Tom Wopat together, not to mention individual solo efforts by Wopat and Purl. Wopat jokes, however, that “If we happen to run out of any of them, I can go out to the car and get another limited supply.”
After singing another tune he formerly performed with Schneider, “Holiday Season” — pianist Mark Berman having what Wopat jokingly calls a “soul seizure” on the piano — Wopat and Purl go on to perform a number by The Tonight Show’s Steve Allen, whom Tom says is “in the Guinness Book of World Records for having written and copyrighted the most songs in history.” Doing a lively version of an Allen tune which was recorded by Louis Armstrong, “Have a Yule That’s Cool,” Tom and Linda musically wish everyone a “cool Yuletide season.”
For an encore, Wopat and Purl invite the audience to join them in a rousing version of “White Christmas,” afterwards wishing each other and everyone at the Grunin Center a very Merry Christmas.
As the audience members make their way out of the theater, they react to the performance they’ve just experienced.
Delores from Brick exclaims, “This was a very upbeat and jazzy Christmas show. I didn’t expect that — it was a nice surprise.” And Delores’ husband, Bill, adds, “Good music — they’re very talented. I really liked Linda’s voice; it was delightful.”
Priscilla from Lakewood states, “It was terrific! They were great together. The old time standards and duets were especially great — no, excellent.”
Getting a chance to chat with Linda Purl after the show, Purl reveals, “It’s great to be back in New Jersey. I lived in Montclair when my son was in Kindergarten, and I was doing Broadway and would commute into the city.”
Regarding her experience at The Grunin Center, Purl goes on to add, “This is a beautiful theater. We would love to come back and perform here again.”
Likewise, Tom Wopat wholeheartedly agrees.
“I love this venue,” Wopat exclaims, getting the word out to potential New Jersey audience members to, “Come and bring your friends to support this great theater. We really enjoy performing here!”
And why not?
With acts like Tom Wopat and Linda Purl in town, Toms River’s Grunin Center is one great Jersey musical “Home for the Holidays!”
For more information on Tom Wopat see tomwopat.com. To find out more about Linda Purl, please go to lindapurl.com. For information on future performances at The Grunin Center — including Vocalosity on January 22, 2017, and America’s Got Talent’s Sons of Serendip on February 10, 2017— please click on grunincenter.orgPhotos by Love Imagery
Spotlight Central. Your source for Jersey entertainment news and reviews
Love Imagery Fine Art Photography. all you need. peace/love/flower/power