"Ah-one, and ah-two and ah-three . . ."
With those words echoing nostalgically and the old champagne machine bubbling, "The Lawrence Welk Show" returns this week, replete with its trademark accordion polkas and big band numbers.
Well, it sort of returns.
Though the 88-year-old Mr. Welk is retired and bedridden in Santa Monica, Calif., his sidekick of 30 years, mild-mannered accordionist Myron Floren, is headlining a six-day, five-city tour billed as "The Stars of Lawrence Welk" that swings into the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall tomorrow for two shows at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Along with Mr. Floren, nine Welk veterans are featured, including singer Ralna English, singer/dancer Arthur Duncan, singer/pianist Jo Ann Castle and the dancing team of Bobby Burgess and Barbara Boylan.
"The Lawrence Welk Show" -- gone 10 years now from television and alien to the minds of an entire generation -- went national in 1955 after four years in Los Angeles and didn't end until 1982. Mr. Welk literally grew old with his audience.
"After 32 years with Lawrence, you miss him," Mr. Floren said in a telephone interview from Niagara Falls, N.Y, "He was really a stickler for good, clean music and entertainment. He knew his audience."
Now that the show is off the air, Mr. Floren spends his time on the road, flying 250,000 miles a year and doing between 150 and 200 shows annually with his big bands and other members of the Welk clan. "As Lawrence would say, it's a musical family, and that's just the way we feel about it," Mr. Floren said.
Though he doesn't spend much time at his home in Rolling Hills, Calif., the South Dakota native still drops in on Mr. Welk, whose residence is visible from his back porch. "He's 88, and showing his age," said the band leader.
The touring show features about 30 numbers, including some medleys, and it concludes with a patriotic tribute to members of the armed forces. Mr. Floren will play such favorites as "Roll Out the Barrel" and "Dance of the Comedians."
Singer Joe Feeney, long-time Welk regular Barney Liddell on trombone, singer Jim Roberts and clarinetist Henry Cuesta also are featured.
Though the show's audience consists mainly of senior citizens, Mr. Floren said he spotted "quite a few" younger people at a recent stop in Columbus, Ohio. That show sold out, and Mr. Floren anticipates another reunion tour after this one, which has included Buffalo, Boston and Philadelphia along with Baltimore. "The success of this one almost necessitates that we do more shows like this," he said.
The cast will gather later Cincinnati to videotape a show scheduled for airing on PBS in December. "There is still a great interest in big band music and the people of Lawrence Welk," said Mr. Floren.
The Stars of Lawrence Welk
Where: Meyerhoff Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.
When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.