Fall is in the air on this cool, crisp October 1, 2021 evening as music lovers line up outside the Strand Theater in Lakewood, NJ for tonight’s Stars of the Sixties concert featuring Gary Lewis, Dennis Tufano, Lou Christie, The Cyrkle, and special guest Chris Ruggiero.
Inside the historic Strand Theater, old friends chat with one another, even though they’re wearing masks as required due to COVID-19 protocols. Piped-in music plays softly in the background putting the crowd in a ’60s mood.
Stars of the Sixties producer, Joe Mirrione, greets the audience, inquiring, “Do we have any teenagers of the ’60s here tonight?” to which the crowd responds with hearty cheers. States Mirrione, “There is no substitute for live music, and every artist on the bill is here live — in person — and in great voice tonight.”
Mirrione introduces tonight’s opening act, The Cyrkle, and the musicians open their set with a bright and bouncy rendition of their Top 20 hit, “It’s a Turn Down Day.”
With live vocals that sound as fresh as they did on the group’s original 1966 recording, hearing this feel-good tune puts audience members in a nostalgic mood.
Founding member Don Dannemann tells the audience that The Cyrkle’s first gig after they got back together after many years was right here at the Strand. Dannemann introduces Mike Losekamp, the group’s original keyboardist from 1966, who handles lead vocals on The Ides of March’s “Vehicle.” Trumpet and alto sax add to the soulful sound of the band as Losekamp sings and plays keyboards and Dannemann comes downstage with his pink guitar, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
Introducing The Beatles’ song that kept The Cyrkle’s biggest hit out of the #1 spot on the Billboard charts back in 1966, the musicians perform a rockin’ rendition of “Paperback Writer,” complete with four-part vocal harmonies.
Performing a song that Paul Simon offered to The Cyrkle but which they declined to record, the group performs “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” A perfect number for this band, the musicians provide just the right groove for this breezy tune with lush vocals and tight instrumental playing.
Moving on to the band’s biggest hit, the Paul Simon-penned “Red Rubber Ball,” vocal harmonies ring out as the drums provide a shuffle beat and a tambourine adds to the ’60s vibe. The audience claps along on this infectious number as the group sings the apropos lyric, “I think it’s gonna be alright/Yes, the worst is over now,” to which the crowd responds with a rousing standing ovation.
Mirrione introduces the evening’s next performer — up-and-coming singer Chris Ruggiero — who blows a kiss and bows to the crowd before launching into his opening number, “1,2,3.”
Dressed in a sparkling jacket and patterned pants with black boots, Ruggerio impresses with his smooth powerful voice. Trumpet, alto sax, bari sax, and trombone add to the retro vibe as Ruggiero sings “It’s easy/Just like taking candy from a baby” on this 1965 Len Barry hit.
Announcing, “I’ll be singing a lot about love tonight,” Ruggiero performs his rendition of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” The horns call as the arrangement builds and Ruggerio sells the song with his vocal power and breath control.
Following an energetic big-band-style rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” Ruggiero says, “This song is timeless,” before performing The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” Crooning the famous lyrics, “I need your love/I want your love/God speed your love/To me,” Ruggiero hits the crucial high note spot-on which earns a standing ovation from the crowd.
Mirrione comes out to tell the audience, “During the pandemic, Chris kept us entertained on Facebook when we couldn’t go out, doing a duet on line with Don Dannemann of The Cyrkle.”
Here, Mirrione calls Dannemann back to the stage for a live performance of Don and Chris’ version of Don and Juan’s “What’s Your Name.”
With their smooth and relaxed vocals, the duo harmonizes before taking a well-deserved bow for the happy crowd.
Mirrione takes a moment to acknowledge tonight’s backup band and then introduces Lou Christie who opens with a snappy version of his infectious 1969 tune, “I’m Gonna Make You Mine.”
Sounding as as free and easy as ever with his clear, falsetto voice, Christie dances around the stage and does high kicks as he performs to cheers from the audience.
Christie takes a moment to welcome all the music lovers in the crowd, asking how many have gotten their vaccines and checking to make sure everyone is wearing a mask. A drum roll introduces Christie’s next number — the powerful ballad, Mel Carter’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me.” With his vocal acumen, Christie infuses his rendition with emotion, the audience cheering for his dynamic performance.
Taking a moment to talk about the old days when he “used to get off the bus and run home to see American Bandstand and the Mickey Mouse Club,” Christie introduces a selection of hits promising, “We’re going do them in the very same keys as we recorded them 60 years ago.”
The audience cheers for two Christie originals — his 1962 Top 40 hit, “The Gypsy Cried,” and his 1963 Top Ten smash, “Two Faces Have I” — where Christie holds the microphone out for the audience to sing along with him on the “aye-yi-yi-yi” backups.
Following his 1966 Top 20 recording, “Rhapsody in the Rain,” the crowd applauds when Christie performs an emotional version of a 1973 tune of his which he calls “one of my favorites” — “Beyond the Blue Horizon” — a song that was featured in the 1973 film, Rain Man.
At the conclusion of this number, members of the crowd call out for more, and Christie responds by saying, “Thank you very much, I’m gonna do the big one now.”
Here, Christie defies time and gravity with his rendition of his 1966 #1 smash, “Lightnin’ Strikes” — the driving band complimenting his legendary falsetto lead vocal.
Following his spirited performance, the crowd rewards Christie with cheers, applause, and a standing ovation.
During intermission, we chat with several members of the audience who share their opinions of tonight’s show thus far. Exlaims Pat from Brick, “This show is absolutely wonderful! It gives you a chance to be-bop in your seat, and it’s such a very nice evening out — something we all need.”
Continuing “I knew all the music from The Cyrkle,” Pat adds, “and Chris Ruggiero’s music fits right in,” before concluding, “plus Lou Christie can still move and do kicks — and then move and kick some more — and he still has that voice!”
Karen from Brick agrees, noting, “I love the oldies music,” adding, “It feels so good to get out again and hear it live!”
Georgeann from Wayne calls tonight’s Stars of the Sixties show, “Wonderful!” Explaining, “It’s very enjoyable — it brings you back to an earlier time in your life,” Georgeann adds, “And that young man, Chris Ruggiero, is fantastic — outstanding, really,” as her husband, Tony, jokes, “This show must be good. Usually when the lights go down, so do I, but I’ve been awake the entire time!”
Phyllis from Forked River tells us how much she enjoyed The Cyrkle, explaining, “I really love Don Dannemann’s voice.” Monique from Lacey Twp. concurs, stating, “I love The Cyrkle. ‘Red Rubber Ball’ is one of my favorite songs,” before adding, “This is one of the best concerts I’ve seen so far. It brings me back to when times were easy. The pandemic put a damper on everything, so it’s nice to be able to come out again and enjoy music like this.”
Lastly, we chat with Ed from Lacey Twp. who recalls, “I saw Chris Ruggerio on television on PBS. It’s pretty amazing to find a guy that young who sings these old songs. He’s very entertaining and has great stage presence.” Adding, “It’s amazing that artists like The Cyrkle and Lou Christie can continue to perform with so much energy,” Ed explains, “Their voices sound great, and it’s just wonderful to hear them again,” before concluding, “I’m so glad we came tonight. People need the entertainment — it brings us all back to better days.”
As Act II commences, Mirrione retakes the stage to introduce the former lead singer of The Buckinghams, Dennis Tufano. Opening with “Back In Love Again,” Tufano is backed by both a rhythm section and a horn section which consists of trumpet, tenor sax, baritone sax, and trombone. Following large applause, Tufano sings The Buckinghams’ 1967 Top Ten hit, “Don’t You Care,” as lights change colors behind him.
Taking a moment to greet the crowd, Tufano declares, “The ’60s music is alive and well!” before launching into The Buckingham’s 1967’s Top 20 hit, “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song).” Inviting the audience to sing along on the “Hey baby” lyric, Tufano dances as he sings while drums, bass, guitar, and keys add to the number’s driving sound.
Tufano jokes, “When I was younger and thinking about what I would be when I grew up, I decided I was not going to grow up — so I became a singer and that keeps me a child.”
Here, he performs a medley of Bobby Darrin tunes for the crowd.
Piano and bouncy rhythm section accompaniment compliment Tufano’s smooth vocal on “Dream Lover.” Then, taking the audience back to the days of bobby socks and saddle shoes, Tufano performs an energetic rendition of “Queen of the Hop,” deftly moving to the music as he sings. Lastly, on “Splish Splash,” Tufano holds the microphone out for the audience to chime in on the ubiquitous “How was I to know there was a party going on?” lyric, after which he exclaims to the audience, “Wow! you’re in good voice tonight!”
Following his rendition of Chicago’s “Saturday In the Park,” Tufano knocks it out of the park with his live version of The Buckinghams’ 1967 Top 20 recording, “Susan,” before a driving beat, tight booming bass, and a soulful sax are all featured on Tufano’s performance of The Buckinghams’ “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” Dancing and grooving to the rockin’ band, Tufano sings his heart out on this Top 5 hit from 1967 to avid cheers and applause.
After announcing, “In 1965, this was our first recording that went national. You made this #1. Thank you! I give it back to you as a gift,” Tufano performs The Bucks’ biggest hit, “Kind of a Drag.” Audience members happily sing and clap along before leaping to their feet for a standing ovation.
When Mirrione asks, “Would you like to hear one more?” the crowd cheers, and Tufano performs an encore of “I’ll Go Crazy.” As the band rocks its way through the number, Dennis leads the way crooning, “You gotta live for yourself and nobody else!” before flashing a peace sign, taking a bow, and exiting to more cheers and applause.
Chris Ruggiero retakes the stage and asks the crowd to give a round of applause to Joe Mirrione who, he explains, produces more than 70 shows year to “keep the music alive,” before tonight’s final act, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, takes the stage.
Lewis and Co. open their portion of the show with their 1965 #2 hit, the infectious “Count Me In,” which features Gary’s unmistakable voice accompanied by guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums.
The crowd roars and Lewis says, “Thank you! We’re going to bring back some great memories tonight.”
Next up is the group’s 1965 #4 hit — a song written by Lewis along with well-known music producer Snuff Garrett and 1970s-era singer/songwriter Leon Russell — “Everybody Loves A Clown,” it’s easy groove bringing people back to their younger days.
Declaring, “We’re going to make some more memories, now!” Gary and the Playboys follow up with another 1965 #2 smash, the nostalgic “Save Your Heart For Me.”
Lewis straps on a guitar saying, “This was our last song on the charts before I got my draft notice.” Here, he and The Playboys perform 1966’s “Sure Gonna Miss Her,” an easy-to-listen-to number which features the sound of a swirling keyboard. Then, bass starts off a funky riff as the group segues into Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ 1966 hit, “Wooly Bully,” the crowd singing along and cheering.
Moving on to the group’s 1965 chart-topper — which Gary proudly reveals “went to #1 thanks to the Ed Sullivan Show” — Lewis and the band perform a dynamic rendition of “This Diamond Ring.”
The audience cheers and Lewis and Co. follow up with their 1966 #8 nod to summer, “Green Grass,” before performing a rousing cover version of Van Morrison’s 1967 hit, “Brown Eyed Girl.” When the keyboard player croons, “Do you remember when we used to sing?,” the crowd remembers and joyfully joins him in crooning the ubiquitous “Sha-la-la la-la-la-la la-la la-la te-da” lyric.
Following enthusiastic applause, Gary and the boys perform their 1967 Top 20 remake of Brian Hyland 1960s’ hit, “Sealed With a Kiss,” the crowd happily joining in on the singing.
Ending their portion of the show with a bang, Gary and The Playboys perform another tune Lewis wrote with Snuff Garrett and Leon Russell — 1966’s Beach Boys-influenced hit, “She’s Just My Style.”
Four-part harmonies ring out on this fun, upbeat tune which has people moving in time in their seats before giving Lewis and Co. a standing ovation, to which Lewis replies, “Rock and roll will never die!”
As music lovers make their way out of the Strand auditorium, we chat with several in the crowd who share their opinions of tonight’s show.
Comments Jerry from Hazleton PA, “It was so much fun to see Dennis Tufano perform tonight! You can tell he’s still a kid at heart and he interacts so well with the audience people develop an instant bond with him.”
Confesses Maxine from Monroe Twp., “I’ve loved Gary Lewis ever since he was 22 years old — we’re the same age — and he’s incredible! I love him to pieces, and his band is great — each musician is so talented!” Maddy from Staten Island concurs, explaining, “I love Gary Lewis! This is my third time seeing him. I love his music, and I have all of his records, too.”
Lastly, we chat with Allen from Monroe Twp. who remarks, “It was great to see the energy of all of the performers tonight,” before concluding, “It’s really inspiring! They don’t seem to be slowing down at all!”
To learn more about The Cyrkle, please click on thecyrkle.com. For more info on Chris Ruggiero, please go to chrisruggierosings.com. To learn more about Lou Christie, go to lou-christie.com. For further information on Dennis Tufano, check out dtsings.com. For more on Gary Lewis, please go to garylewisandtheplayboys.com.
For information on future shows at The Strand — including Bee Gees Gold on Oct. 23, Let’s Hang On: A Tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons on Nov. 13, and The Atlantic City Ballet’s Nutcracker on Dec. 18 — please click on strand.org.
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