‘The Fabulous Fifties’

Forgach House Benefit features top local talent

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It’s her 18th annual Forgach House production! And she’s staging it, Sierra Vista, just for you!  

You will not want to miss the company of dancers, singers and instrumentalists that former London showgirl and modern impresario Mitzi Kirmse has assembled to perform center stage at Buena Performing Arts Center, Friday, Oct 18 at 7 p.m.

It’s an opportunity to go back in time and celebrate the hip music of the ’50s.

A production to benefit Forgach House, the Sierra Vista domestic crisis center, is being mounted by Mitzi Kirmse, our own version of Flo Ziegfeld, who has a searched the area for the most entertaining and talented acts possible.  One of the highlights of the fall entertainment season, crowds of fans are eager to support “The Forgach Follies,” Cochise County’s program under the auspices of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, Inc. 

Tickets are priced at $18 each (or $20 each at the door), and may be obtained at Dillard’s, Safeway, Ace Hardware, Oscar Yrun Center, Banner Printing, the Ethel Berger Center and the Windemere Hotel  & Conference Center.

Veteran emcee Tim Quinn will be up to his humorous best as he introduces the varied acts.  After 25 years in the U.S. Army, and 26 years as a husband, with nearly three decades as an intelligence officer, Quinn is the quintessential dad with a son completing his senior year at U of A, and a daughter who has a degree in theater and works for Arizona Broadway Theater company. His humor, often richly corn-fed, tickles audiences and keeps them smiling.

Rick “Coach” Kline conducts Buena’s Show Band, one of six instrumental performance groups at Buena. For more than four decades, this unit has been playing Big Band sounds of the ’40s. They play the whole pop literature gamut of enchanting dance and show tunes.

Introducing the 2013 theme of melodies of the fifties, they rock out with what is considered the first recorded rock-and-roll tune: Rock the Joint. Written by Harry Crafton, Wendell Keane and Harry Bagby, the “boogie” song initiated a new era in popular music. In addition, the band will play Pat Ballard’s “Sandman,” introduced in 1954.  The song is unique because an opera is referred to: Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, pinpointing the clown’s “lonely heart.” The Latin-flavored “Tequilla” was composed by Danny Flores who is also known as Chuck Rio. It was introduced by The Champs more than a half-century ago…so we’re off to a fast-paced, spine-tingling decade of enduring sounds.

The second half of the show features the Buena Show Band in some classic pieces: “Rockin’ Robin,” by Leon René, aka Jimmie Thomas, was a 1958 hit for singer Bobby Day, and unfortunately his only hit. Michael Jackson included his version in a 1972 album by the same name.  Cole Porter’s timeless song, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” will titillate everyone regardless of age. It was written in 1936 for Eleanor Powell’s musical Born to Dance. And the titillation will bubble even more so with the Isley Brothers’ 1959 “Shout,” a frequently played R & R favorite.

“Rock Around the Clock,” by Max Freedman and James E. Myers, became a hit in 1954 as Bill Haley and His Comets’ rendition soared on the charts in this country and the United Kingdom. It is said the song became “an anthem for rebellious ’50s youth.” It’s performed as the audience leaves the theater.

“See Ya Later, Alligator” is a work that provides an energetic rhythm for Alma Dolores Dancers. It’s a routine to set toes involuntarily to tapping, and fingers drumming. It’s a work that will provide the invigorated dancers with youthful pulsating rhythms. Written in 1955 by Louisiana songwriter Robert Charles Guidry (aka Bobby Charles), the title was already a catch-phrase used by teenagers. Bill Haley arranged the song to a faster-paced tune that switched the song’s category from a rhythm and blues “shuffle” to rock n’ roll.

Buena’s 2010 grad, Saige Larry, is the stunning 2013 Miss Sierra Vista. Born in Germany to a military family, this lovely young woman has lived here in Sierra Vista most of her life. She is to sing one of Jerome Kern’s greatest hits. From the 1932 Broadway musical Roberta, Miss Sierra Vista has chosen “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”  Famous artists who have recorded the song include Gertrude Nielsen, Irene Dunn, The Platters, Nat “King” Cole, Kathryn Grayson, Eartha Kitt and Vic Damone. Big bands that recorded it include Paul Whiteman and Ray Conniff, who made it one of his signature songs.

“Imported” from the Islands is the Cochise College Dance Club, who cloak themselves in tantalizing Hawaiian leis and costumes, while using the poetic artistry of moving hands, undulating arms and articulating torsos to illustrate the wonders of “Blue Hawaii” (“Aloha Pumahana”).

Handsome smiling Bill Campbell toured much of the Southwest following his Army career. He toured throughout the “real Northwest” also, meaning Alaska, including the historic Alaska hotel, the Alaska Folk Festival, Alaska Artists in the Park and numerous churches. He continues to offer his talent to local churches, and donates his gifts to a variety of charities, including the Empty Bowls Project, Diversity Fair, Cochise College’s Spring Celtic Culture Series, the Huachuca Art Association and this Forgach House Variety Show.

Hank Williams’ 1952 hit “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is given the full Bill Campbell treatment.

Williams’ song topped the charts for six weeks in a row and sold well over a million copies. It is ranked as number five on Country Music Television’s 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music.

“All I Have to Do Is Dream,” written by a married couple, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, the song was made famous by the Everly Brothers in 1958, and Mr. Cassidy is going to add to that fame. Lastly, Bill Campbell reminds us of Johnny Cash’s 1956 classic that remained on the charts for 43 weeks, and sold over two million copies … “I Walk the Line.”

As a young pastor in Ojai, Calif., I was assigned to visit the patients at the local hospital one week in the ’70s. As I entered a room, there was a young man in bed going through very large and seemingly ancient books of folk music. It was Johnny Cash … doing research. He wasn’t going to waste time getting well. He refreshed his artistic brain too. It interested me that he took his role as a country singer so seriously that he dug deeply into its almost forgotten past.

Bill Purciello has been pounding the piano keys all his life, and for the last 18 years he has been demonstrating his remarkable keyboard artistry in Mitzi Kirmse’s annual Forgach House show.  We’re told he still has trouble walking past a piano without “tickling the ivories.” Having recorded three CD’s for his following, he will perform “Great Balls of Fire,” penned by Otis Blackwell (aka Jack Hammer) plus golden oldies: “Whole Lot of Shaking Goin’ On,” written by Dave Williams and James Faye Hall, and “What’d I Say,” by Ray Charles which was popularized by Jerry Lee Lewis. At this performance the piano will answer the question.

The final show-stopper is Johnny Jones, an Elvis Presley impersonator who is a bright star in the Branson, Mo., theater scene. At 12, he was placed in foster care, but that struggle did not depress his eagerness to win. He received a scholarship from Texas A&M to play football and be part of the track team. But what he really wanted to do was to pursue music. Not just any kind of music, but Gospel music!

Since many people commented about his Elvis resemblance, he thought perhaps he could use that similarity to begin a ministry with Gospel music. Says Johnny Jones, “I’m committed to seeing the best in everyone. Elvis loved Gospel music and spent many hours after a show singing Gospel to relieve his troubled soul.”

He explains, “Jesus said, ‘Judge not, lest you be judged.’ Many people remember Elvis at the end but forget his deep roots in Southern Gospel music. Elvis may have given up on himself, but he never gave up on God.”

Mr. Jones offers a tribute to Rock and Roll’s King, Elvis Presley. 

The ensemble gathers on stage for their finale. In 1968, Danny and the Juniors recorded “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Here to Stay,” which celebrates the enduring value of an American form of music that’s still making young and old wiggle and wing it in 2013. With that, the evening closes with recognition of military veterans with Irving Berlin’s memorable musical prayer: “God Bless America.” Although written in 1918, it wasn’t until World War II that the song was fished out of the files and lent to Kate Smith, one of the most notable and beloved singers of the ’40s. It is a patriotic prayer, and one many G.I’s have sung arriving back home after a deployment in some far off battle area … 

It’s a fitting end to a nostalgic night filled with lively music and exceptional talent.

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