“Doo Wop Extravaganza!” LIVE! at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium!
On September 3, 2016, the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ, invited audience members to take a stroll down Memory Lane with a tribute to classic music of the 50s and 60s in a show entitled “Doo Wop Extravaganza.” Hosted by NJ 101.5 Radio DJ Big Joe Henry, the nearly three-hour concert featured the talents of such legendary artists as Barbara Harris and the Toys, The Belmonts, Shirley Alston Reeves of The Shirelles, and The Duprees.
Opening the show with a peppy cover version of Felix Cavaliere and The Young Rascal’s 1968 chart-topper “People Got to Be Free,” Barbara Harris and the Toys get the concert off to a great start. After the song, Harris tells the audience,“There are three things we want you to do tonight: Sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself — because ‘The Toys Are Back in Town,’” and with that, Harris and company sing a parody of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town,” concluding with an enthusiastic shout-out to “Toys ‘R Us!”
Harris tells the crowd that, despite what some people may think, The Toys were never a “one hit wonder” because, as she explains, “our second record was a Top 10 hit, ‘Attack’,” which they go on to perform with gusto.
Next up is the The Toys’ “Girl Group Medley” featuring such classic tunes as The Dixie Cups’ “Going to the Chapel,” where audience members can be seen dancing in their seats, in addition to The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and The Crystals’ “Da Do Ron Ron.” Other hits in the medley include The Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby,” Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Dancin’ In the Street,” and a song which Harris introduces as being made famous by “maybe the greatest girl group of them all, The Supremes” — “Stop in the Name of Love.”
Taking some time out from the music to greet the hometown audience with a huge, “Hello, Ocean Grove!,” Harris introduces her stagemates — “Sandra from Brooklyn, NY,” and “Sha from Staten Island, NY” — and then notes, “These young whippersnappers ought to give an old girl a break!”
As the original lead singer of The Toys, Harris goes on tell a story about how, in 1965, she and the other original members of the group “sang on street corners” where they were eventually discovered.
“We were offered a chance to become stars!,” she reveals. “So,” she continues, “we were brought into the studio to record four songs. One of the songs, the girls didn’t like because it sounded like a ‘school song,’ so we did it in one take. But the other three songs we worked really hard on.”
In a surprise twist, however, it was that first song the girls recorded that went straight to #1 on the charts: “Lover’s Concerto,” which Barbara Harris and the Toys sing for the crowd — with Harris sounding identical to her original 1965 recording — and, as a thanks for their performance, they receive a standing ovation.
After the show, when asked how she enjoys performing in NJ, Harris says, “We do this venue every two years because we just love seeing the fans here in New Jersey!”
Next up is The Belmonts from The Bronx, NY, who open their portion of the program with “Let’s Put the Fun Back in Rock and Roll,” and continue with a new song from a CD they released just weeks ago: “Bop Bop Shangalanglanga.” They really get the crowd going, however, when they sing a classic song from 1958 which they recorded with their original lead singer, Dion DiMucci, “I Wonder Why.”
Moving on to their 1959 hit, “Teenager in Love,” The Belmonts encourage the audience to sing along saying, “Now Dion did the lead on this one, and we want you to sing Dion’s part.”
With the audience happily singing along, the band remarks, “Hey! We got some teenagers out there! Wow!”
Next, the group features beautiful vocal harmonies as they sing Rogers and Hart’s “Where or When,” as a group of “swayers” in the back of the auditorium sashay, sing, and smile along to the music.
Moving on to a rockin’ version of 1960’s “Tell Me Why,” the Belmonts get the crowd at the Great Auditorium moving in their seats.
Following a hearty round of applause, they perform an acapella rendition of “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Girl,” featuring such beautiful four-part harmonies they elicit both screaming and applause from the audience. Then the group really lights up the concert hall with a rollicking version of “The Wanderer.”
Lastly, the Belmonts perform “Runaround Sue” with the entire audience singing along on the famous line, “She goes out with other guys.”
Saying “We want to form a rock and roll group, so, guys — you’re gonna sing the ‘Hey, Hey bomba-daydee-daydee, hey hey’ part, and ladies — you’re gonna sing the ‘whoa woah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh part,’” the Belmonts conclude their portion of the evening’s festivities with the audience singing along on an extended version of “Runaround Sue,” and then springing out of their seats to give the talented group a well-deserved standing ovation.
The third act of the evening, Shirley Alston Reeves, is a 1996 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. Hitting the stage running with a lively version of “Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This,” 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.
After a terrific performance of “Baby It’s You,” Alston Reeves jokes, “I wrote this next song, but I forgot the year… ‘cuz I’m so old!” And with that, she performs “Tonight’s the Night,” a 1960 hit for The Shirelles, a song listed by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the greatest songs of all time.
After introducing her colleagues, Iris Lammers, with whom she’s been singing with 29 years, and Madelyn Morris, who’s been part of Alston Reeves’ group for nine years, Reeves laments, “I’m the oldest… at 75!”
The audience applauds as the women present “I Love Everybody Since I Fell For You” featuring tight vocal harmonies and tons of energy.
Alston Reeves tells the audience that “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 “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”
“We make a pretty good team!,” exclaims Alston Reeves.
“Are there any military families in the house?,” Alston Reeves asks, and then dedicates The Shirelle’s biggest hit to them, “Soldier Boy.”
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: Al Green’s “I’ll Be Around.”
And after performing a poignant version of the tune, Alston Reeves stops the show to ask, “Is my time up?”
“No?,” she replies, “Then, we gotta dance!’”
At this point, Alston Reeves and her colleagues present a rockin’ “Dance Medley” of tunes featuring Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and two Elvis Presley hits including “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Hound Dog.”
As they perform, audience members rush the stage dancing, and as Alston Reeves and the group wind up their outstanding performance, the audience rewards them with a rousing standing ovation.
Following Alston Reeves, the last group to perform is The Duprees from Jersey City, NJ. Opening their portion of the show with “Have You Heard?,” the members of this outstanding vocal group —Tony Testa, Phil Granito, Jimmy Spinelli, and Tommy Petillo — demonstrate their ability to perform beautiful four-part harmonies together.
Group leader Testa, says, “We’re gonna go back and remember when things were simple and do some romantic-sounding music.” Looking direcatly at a man in the front of the auditorium, Testa specifically asks him, “Do you remember, sir?,” pauses, and then jokes, “Sir.. did I wake you?”
Moving on to perform, “Why Don’t You Believe Me?,” couples can be seen slow dancing together around the perimeter of the auditorium.
Testa introduces the group’s next number saying, “Here’s a Bobby Darin song done ‘Dupree-style’” and the men perform “Beyond the Sea.” The group sounds so good they give audience members chills as couples swing dance in the aisles.
Moving on to tunes like the romantic “The Sand and the Sea,” The Duprees follow up with a “Musical Time Machine” vocal medley featuring hits from four decades including the “Lazy River” from the 1930s, “Dream (When You’re Feeling Blue)” from the 1940s, “Sh-Boom” from the 1950s, and, representing the 1960s, the Duprees’ own hit “Tara’s Theme,” a vocal adapation of the theme song from Gone with the Wind.
Following tremendous applause, Testa says, “These songs remind us of when we were growing up. 50 years later, we’re making people happy with the same songs.” Going on to add, “People always ask us, ‘Why do you do show biz?,” he says the answer is simply because, “We love it!”
Next, Testa provides a mock warning to the audience saying, “Hide the women and the children!,” before Duprees member Phil Granito is featured on a wild roller coaster version of “That’s Why (I Love You So)” — a performance which is so energetic, dynamic, and enjoyable that the audience gives him a standing ovation for it.
Says Testa, “Since 1962, this is how The Duprees say ‘thank you,’” at which point the group concludes their portion of the show with their hit that opens with the famous line, “See the pyramids along the Nile…” and, from there, they go on to present such a lovely version of “You Belong to Me,” it carries the audience to their feet.
“Did you have a great time?,” asks DJ Big Joe Henry, to which members of the audience respond with a resounding “YES!”
As the crowd files out, Tom and Cindy from Point Pleasant, NJ, provide their opinion of the concert noting, “These are four legendary acts who still have excellent and wonderful harmony.”
Joanne from Berkeley Township, NJ, calls the show, “Incredible,” revealing, “It makes me feel young again.” “ This is MY music!,” Joanne goes on to say, “and hearing it again is thoroughly enjoyable. I especially like the audience participation, too.”
Donna from Sayerville, NJ, and Tom from Atlantic Highlands, NJ, simply state together in unison, “Fantastic!”
For more on Barbara Harris and the Toys, please go to barbarastoys.net. For more on The Belmonts, see thebelmonts.net. For more information on Shirley Alston Reeves, see Shirley Alton Reeves on Facebook. For more on The Duprees, please go to duprees.com. Lastly, for information on future cultural and entertainment events at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium, please see oceangrove.org.