Lawrence Welk gang revisited

June 27, 1991|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

IF YOU'RE a Trekkie, then Spock, Capt. Kirk and Scotty represent the ultimate wisdom.

Switch to the Lawrence Welk galaxy, and the stars in the champagne firmament are Myron Floren, Ralna English, Joe Feeney, Bobby Burgess, and Barbara Boylan & Co. from the old bubbles and squeeze-box television show. They've been gone as a full team for a decade now but for public TV reruns.

Vanished, that is, until Wednesday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall when the gang comes back for two live shows at 1 and 5 p.m. Baltimore's the last stop on a five-city tour by 10 of the stars of the Lawrence Welk Show, which started in Los Angeles in 1951, went national in 1955 and ended in 1982.

The master showman himself, Lawrence-ah Welk-ah, is 88, completely retired, reported in generally "OK" health but bedridden in Santa Monica, Calif., and said to be worth $750 million. "I can see his tower from where I live in Rolling Hills," his former top sidekick Floren says. "I don't see him much but whenever I do, he says 'You still on the road?'"

The answer is yes, 250,000 miles worth. That's how much band leader and accordionist Floren says he flies each year, playing with a dozen bands throughout the country and sometimes doing dates with three or four old Welk show regulars who have gone their own ways.

"We wanted to see what happens when we all get together again," Floren says. "It'll be like old home week." The tour hit Columbus, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Philadelphia. Several days after the Meyerhoff show, the Welk folks are scheduled to tape a public television special to air in December.

With intermission, the two Baltimore shows will last 2 hours, 15 minutes and perform about 30 numbers ("If you don't like one, wait a minute.") Host Floren will play favorites "Roll out the Barrel," "Tiger Rag" and "Dance of the Comedians." And there will be champagne bubbles.

"Wherever we go fans want to know what's happened to the old gang," Floren said. Some of them were with him back in October 1976 when they came here for a show at Painters Mill Music Fair. Here's a look at the July 3 Baltimore returnees:

* Floren: a native of South Dakota, where last week the family had a reunion of 100, started on the accordion when 7, hired by Welk in 1950, taught the instrument to work his way through Augustana College in Sioux Falls, entertained troops in a USO unit in Europe in 1944, never stopped playing professionally, married 45 years to Berdye. They have five daughters. Kristie, the oldest, is married to dancer Bobby Burgess.

* Ralna English: gospel and pop singer, a native of West Texas, a regular television and live concert performer in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Sold 5 million albums of songs with former singing partner Guy Hovis, nominated for the Dove Award by Gospel Music Association for her "How Great Thou Art" (it's on her Baltimore program).

* Joe Feeney: a regular club and concert tenor, showed up as a young singer on the old Horace Heidt TV show, a Nebraska native whose recordings on an Omaha radio station led to hiring by Welk, veteran of 26 years on the Welk show, has sold five albums.

* Jo Ann Castle: a pianist and singer, a Welk fixture during the 1960s after he heard her accordion record, the only current tour artist not around at the end in 1982. Spent a decade on the show as "the bouncy blonde" with her hot piano, singing and comedy. Also worked with her own group and for Tex Williams, Spade Cooley King, Spike Jones and Arthur Godfrey.

* Bobby Burgess and Barbara Boylan: a dancing duo on and off since they met in dancing class at 13. A full-time Disney Mousketeer for four years, Burgess spent two decades on the Welk show, once with Boylan beat 11,000 others in a national dance contest. Is a regular in theater-in-the-round and nightclub shows and a Disney spokesman. Boylan left the show in 1967 to be married to Greg Dixon, came back occasionally to dance with Burgess and now teaches dance near Denver.

* Barney Liddell: veteran pop and jazz trombone star, joined Welk in 1948 after wartime service. Played 52nd Street jam sessions in New York with such jazz stars as Sid Catlett, Billie Holiday, J.C. Higginbotham, Red Allen and Tony Scott.

* Arthur Duncan: longtime singer and dancer, left Pasadena City College to "see what this show business was all about" and never returned, has performed in nightclubs and on TV since. Spent almost a decade overseas, played with Lionel Hampton's group before Welk signed him, more recently played in the movie "Tap" and did stints with Tony Martin, Barbara McNair and the Gene Krupa Band.

* Also playing in Baltimore: Jim Roberts, veteran concert tenor, Floren's "big band" 13-piece orchestra, clarinetist Henry Cuesta and marimba player Jack Imel.

Tickets are $18.50 to $25. For more information, call 783-8000.

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